Conference PaperPDF Available

From creativity and ingenuity through technology and invention to product and market: a new paradigm for engineering education


Abstract and Figures

Electronics education needs to change to meet the working needs of employers, and to expand by increasing undergraduate student numbers to help meet the shortage of engineers in the UK and elsewhere. In addition, it needs to acknowledge and provide skills guidance and experience for students in the working needs of employers specifically by making group working along with clear verbal and written communication skills the working norm, while the key role of creativity in the engineering design process is developed. Such changes are non-trivial in the context of existing programmes. The decision by Royal Holloway, University of London, to set up a department of Electronic Engineering from scratch (admitting its first undergraduate students in September 2017), provides a unique opportunity to design from scratch a purpose-built facility, and a curriculum that focusses on fostering creativity, group working and excellent verbal and written communication skills throughout the programme.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Proceedings of the Conference
held on 22nd May 2017
Proceedings of the Conference
held on 22nd May 2017
Published by
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Preface, Prof Sarah Spurgeon, President, The Engineering Professors’ Council 3
Foreword, Prof Jeremy Watson, President, The Institution of Engineering and Technology 5
How they do it elsewhere, Peter Goodhew 7
Accelerating the development of creative design engineers, Mike Cook 13
Vertically integrated projects: transforming higher education, Stephen Marshall 19
Industry-ready graduates through curriculum design, D. G. Allan and G. D. Rowsell 23
An engineering renaissance, Janusz A. Kozinski and Eddy F. Evans 35
‘Engineering’ or ‘The Engineer’? A paradox of professionalism
Robin Clark and Jane Andrews
The formation of an engineer: A view on the engineering curriculum
E. Tilley and J.E. Mitchell
AIMLED – A new approach to engineering higher education
Karen Usher and David Sheppard, NMiTE
From creativity and ingenuity through technology and invention to product and market:
a new paradigm for engineering education
David M Howard, Stefanie Kuenzel and Wenqing Liu
Why the hard science of engineering is no longer enough to meet the 21st Century
challenges, Richard K. Miller
Internationalising the curriculum – a transnational partnership in renewable energy
Bruce Cameron, John Redgate and Tim Wilmshurst
Case study: coordinated design and employability, Sean Moran 99
Engineering without maths or physics: A threat to the development of engineering
capital? Jane Andrews and Robin Clark
Improving the employment prospects of graduate engineers through an SME
placement bursary scheme, Hilary Price and Carolina Salinas
A sociological analysis of engineering education, K. Moffat 113
Teaching manufacturing for the 21st Century, Peter Mylon 119
Enhancing public and student understanding of engineering via MOOCs, Eann Patterson 123
The teaching of inclusive engineering, Dawn Bonfield 127
Twitter: @TheIET
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education: Proceedings of the Conference held on 22nd May 2017
Published 2017
Text and images © The Institution of Engineering and Technology/The Engineering Professors’ Council 2017
Design and typset by Johnny Rich
The moral right of the authors and illustrators has been asserted.
Twitter: @EngProfCouncil
Professor Sarah Spurgeon OBE, President, The Engineering Professors’ Council
It is always easy to imagine the world is heading for disaster. With the problems of politics ,
skills shortages and environmental threats, it would be easy to sink into a paralysis of despondency.
But we are engineers. Where other people see disasters, we see challenges. Where others
surrender to inevitable ruin, we find new opportunities. As a society, we have imagined we are
heading for disaster in the past, and yet, as engineers, we have always imagined the way to make
the world better instead.
We recognise problems and stand up to them. This country – the whole planet needs
engineering solutions.
As a community of academic engineers, we sit at the frontier. As researchers, it falls on us to
help create those solutions. And, as teachers, we must also create a taskforce of graduates who
can help bring their own creativity to our aid.
We must turn our problem-solving expertise on our own profession to meet the impending
skills emergency in this country.
The New Approaches Conference, which the Engineering Professors’ Council was proud to
convene with the Institution of Engineering and Technology, embodied that spirit. We saw first-
hand how engineers turn their imaginations to new approaches.
This publication represents an abundant seam of innovation that was presented at the
Conference and which has been captured to act as the inspiration for further invention,
development and change. Ideas are not in short supply.
As Jeremy Watson describes in his foreword (see page 5), engineers need both hard and soft
skills. We need to be radical in imagining that what has worked in the past could be made better.
For example, we all know you need Maths and Physics to be a good engineer, but these are things
we can help stidents to develop and they are not the sum total of what you need. We need students
with the imagination to dream a better world and the skills to build it.
Today has placed a flag in the ground to say, we are prepared to think innovatively.
There are many people whose generous support and hard work should be acknowledged: all
those who contributed to the conference and to the proceedings by submitting their papers; the
IET, Nigel Fine and all the staff of Savoy Place; John Perkins for chairing the conference and the
steering committee who organised it; and to all those individuals who attended the conference or
are reading this and who will take forward these ideas into our institutions of higher education.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
The learning and teaching of engineering mathematics, Michael Peters and Robin Clark 131
Pursuing excellence, Laura Leyland, Jens Lahr and Simon Handley 137
Developing a sustainable engineering curriculum for part-time distance learning
students, Carol Morris, Alec Goodyear and Sally Organ
The NUSTEM approach: Tackling the engineering and gender challenge together from
early years to sixth form and beyond
Annie Padwick, Carol Davenport, Rebecca Strachan and Joe Shimwell
Women in engineering at the Open University – motivations and aspirations
Carol Morris and Sally J. Organ
Professor Jeremy Watson CBE FREng FRSA MSc DPhil CEng FIET, IET President
The ‘New Approaches to Higher Education’ conference brings together some of the world’s
leading innovators from engineering higher education – from those making their courses accessible
and appealing to a more diverse and inclusive student base, to those no longer stipulating advanced
qualifications in maths and physics in their entry criteria. Most are developing new integrated
engineering courses focused on finding solutions to real-world problems, but all are rewriting the
rule book on how they train the engineers of the future.
Engineering is no longer a set of different disciplines to be taught in isolation. Instead it is
becoming a spectrum, with blurring boundaries between hard and soft skills, and types of
education – and an ever-closer relationship with technology.
There is growing consensus that we need to promote a broader, more inclusive and future-
proof view of engineering – seeing it as a profession rather than a sector of the economy.
For generations engineers have been solving some of the world’s biggest problems and
universities and colleges have provided the learning and knowledge required for engineers to fulfil
this role. So today, with the engineering profession facing some pressing and prevalent challenges,
and more anticipated around the corner – it is crucial that engineering higher education is poised
to adapt to attract and produce engineers who can continue to engineer a better world.
The UK’s engineering and technology skills shortage and gap is well documented. The most
recent IET annual skills survey found that 62% of employers believe that graduates don’t have
the right skills for the modern workplace. More worryingly, 68% said they thought the education
system would struggle to keep apace with technological change.
As Brexit negotiations are yet to begin in earnest, it is difficult to predict what impact the UK’s
exit from the EU will have on the skills shortage. But at this stage it’s hard to see any short-term
benefits on the skills shortage and gap from the UK leaving Europe, and we must be prepared
that, at least in the short term, it could exacerbate the situation.
One way the IET is helping to tackle the skills gap is by promoting the importance of work
experience for engineering students in higher education. We are also hopeful that the new degree
apprenticeship courses, due to launch in September 2017, will put a new and sorely-needed
emphasis on gaining practical, on-the-job experience to enhance academic theory and knowledge.
Another big contributor to the skills shortage and gap, as the IET’s #9percentisnotenough
campaign has been highlighting, is that there are simply too few girls and women going into
engineering – which is also having an impact on quality of output.
Other professions such as medicine are seeing the benefits of a more gender diverse workforce
in terms of a wider talent pool, improved creativity and better customer insight. We need to
harness these benefits for engineering by getting better at attracting more girls and women into
our engineering courses.
Engineers are increasingly finding themselves working as part of interdisciplinary teams that
require more than one technical specialism and a growing repertoire of skills. An electrical engineer
working in the automotive industry starting their career today is likely to need a far wider breadth
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
How they do it elsewhere
Peter Goodhew FREng, Emeritus Professor at the University of Liverpool and
advisor to NMiTE, Michael Stevenson and Jo Edwards, NMiTE, Hereford
Innovation in engineering education is not a new phenomenon but it has tended to be
piecemeal. New approaches have been trialled and adopted in hundreds of institutions in dozens
of countries, with increasing intensity since about 2000. It is the purpose of this paper to review
what has been attempted and what has been achieved around the world, in order to provide a
platform for the innovators of 2017.
In order to discuss change we need a datum. With apologies to the small number of exceptions,
we will characterise engineering higher education in the second half of the 20th century in the
following way: Engineering was taught principally via the medium of the lecture, supplemented
by exercise classes and laboratory experiences, over a 30-week year. Typically, students would
attend 20-25 hours of formal classes and spend up to one day per week in laboratories performing
“closed” experiments (with known outcomes). The curriculum would start with “fundamental
science”, including mathematics for at least the first two years, and would be developed to have a
greater emphasis on engineering as if science and engineering were two ends of a single
continuum. The 3 years would culminate in an extended individual project, often conducted in
the department’s research laboratories. Although design featured as a taught subject, in most cases
the students would neither work in a team, nor make anything. This might sound like a caricature
but it actually reflects the experience of the vast majority of engineering graduates prior to about
2000. This is the background against which innovation must be considered.
Innovation has been defined in many ways, but a common theme is the process of translating
an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.
Innovations in engineering education have usually been driven by the desire to add value, normally
by increasing quality rather than by reducing cost. Creativity (the thinking of new ideas) has played
only a very small part in the changes to engineering education, principally because most of the
ideas which gain currency are not new, but have been taken from developments in pedagogy (the
way children learn). Thus the analyses propounded by educationalists such as Piaget and Vygotsky
tend to be heralded as “creative” when applied to the education of adults in universities, but they
are certainly not new. There are very few references in this paper, partly because there is little
published work beyond the anecdotal, and partly because a quick web search will reveal more than
we can usefully put in a small number of references. For instance Vygotsky did not publish in
English, so most readers will need to go to secondary sources.
Against the background established by our caricature above, we can see a number of generic
areas in which innovation is possible. These include:
1. The entry requirements
2. The “content” – the subject matter of the programme
3. The ways in which students acquire knowledge and understanding
4. The activities which the student experiences
of skills than they would have done 25 years ago, including mechanical engineering, project
management and advanced digital skills.
Also contributing to this ‘skills bonanza’ that we need from our future engineers is Industry
4.0, otherwise known as the ‘new industrial revolution’, which is expected to have a similar impact
on society as the previous industrial revolution when railways and factories arrived en masse.
Technologies like virtualisation, robotics and 3D printing mean we’ll be able to develop,
prototype and make products quickly and at very low cost – which will redefine the economics
of manufacturing.
And of course, we now have the promise of a long-awaited Industrial Strategy from UK
Government – which all the political parties have signed up to in principle. It’s vital that
implementation of the Industrial Strategy transcends party politics. The opportunities for
engineering are very significant – but so is the challenge in terms of skills.
The implications of all of this for the higher education sector are enormous. We need to equip
people with skills that are emerging alongside the technologies that require them. You cannot
have a factory in which people use robots to greatly increase their productivity without training
those people in ‘cobotics’ – working with and understanding robots. People cannot use data to
make machinery more reliable and effective if they are not trained to interpret that data. The
manufacturing of the future will require a more highly skilled workforce than ever before.
The emphasis on creativity and digital capability will be far greater, and the UK will need
engineers who have the intellectual, creative and practical prowess to keep up with an ever-
increasing speed of product development and technological change. We need to train a new
generation of engineers in skills that are genuinely relevant to the new industrial values of
flexibility, technical advancement and on-going innovation.
Single discipline specialism and theory will no longer cut it in the modern world. Engineering
needs to break down barriers, nurture creativity and work across disciplines to solve some of the
world’s biggest challenges and to embrace the opportunities that the Industrial Strategy and
Industry 4.0 present.
All of these changes call for a very different approach to engineering higher education – and
that is why the IET and the Engineering Professors’ Council organised the New Approaches to
Engineering in Higher Education Conference to hear from universities and colleges around the
world who have not only acknowledged the need for change, but have already taken action and
are seeing some impressive results.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
alternative KA techniques. These are highlighted in the Table. There is ample scope for further
innovation in this area.
4. The activities which the student experiences
Our baseline student experience involved lectures, exercise classes, pre-defined lab experiments
and a research project. Here there has been a plethora of developments, albeit rarely many of
them in any one undergraduate programme. Among the new experiences available to 21st century
students are interactive and flipped classes, recorded lectures, on-line material, games and
simulations, working in a group or team (sometimes involving students from more than one year,
or more than one continent), design-build-test projects (DBT), competitive team activities such
as Formula Student, problem-based-learning (PBL), interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary
projects, capstone projects (often in collaboration with industry), Dragons Den-style presentations,
constructive failure, raising sponsorship, leadership training and outreach work with children in
schools. These pedagogical techniques could be classified as “experiential learning”, in contrast
to the passive learning typified by lectures and reading lists. We do not have the space to unpack
each of these – again the interested reader will search the web – but some institutions which
deploy them successfully are listed in the table.
Students must also be assessed and multiple methods are already in use. These include various
types of exam (including multiple choice) and various types of report (often on-line). There is
some scope for innovation but it is usually the case that “better” (i.e. more revealing) assessment
is more time-consuming. For example, face-to-face oral assessment of individuals has many
positive features but is very expensive in staff time.
5. The timescale for an engineering education
Over the past three decades the “normal” duration of a full-time undergraduate programme
in the UK has shifted slightly from 3 years for a BEng towards 4 years for an MEng. There are
plenty of examples around the world of longer programmes to reach graduate level, but not many
of shorter. The Bologna process and the Washington Accord have shifted the emphasis away
from time-on-course to output measures relating to the capability of the graduate. The further
effect of substantial fees being directly charged to students (whether deferred or not) has been to
focus attention in the UK on shorter, faster routes to qualification. These have been termed
“accelerated” degrees and most proposed routes have relied upon the use of more than the
conventional 30 weeks of attendance per year. It is of course quite straightforward to put 90
weeks of learning into two years rather than three: Few institutions do this, although NMiTE is
currently proposing a model which involves a 46-week year. However, universities in The
Netherlands routinely use 40- and 42-week years, so - as with most so-called innovations - this is
already well established.
6. Learning spaces
Innovative student activities, such as those outlined in 3. and 4. above, usually require a different
type of space. For example, if classes are to become more interactive there is a need for class
spaces without fixed seating and if project-based learning is to be adopted spaces must
accommodate equipment, tools and making-space. Several universities have reacted to this need
5. The timescale for education
6. The spaces in which education takes place
We will consider each of these in turn, and summarize our findings in the table.
1. Entry requirements
It has been conventional to require engineering students to have studied mathematics, and
frequently physics, to a level equivalent to the A-level in England. In fact, because engineering
programmes are offered (in the UK at least) by almost all universities and to students of a wide
range of abilities and prior education, as many as 40% of students in the UK start an engineering
programme without mathematics or physics at this level1. A number of institutions which would
be able to demand mathematics of their incoming students have elected not to do so. These
include UCL and Warwick. These institutions report that students without maths on entry succeed
just as well as those with conventional qualifications. A number of other institutions worldwide
have also elected to reduce the emphasis on mathematics.
2. The content
Our concept of what is engineering changes constantly. However, innovation has tended to
be reflected in the introduction of new programmes - or new programme variants - rather than
in large changes in the content of well-established engineering sub-disciplines (mechanical, civil,
electronic etc). Thus, programmes in biomedical or biochemical engineering, software engineering,
nuclear engineering and automotive engineering have been started, together with variants such as
electrical and railway engineering. A quick examination of the UCAS web site will reveal the
current range of variants.
Content is not specified very tightly by accrediting bodies and it is very difficult to track
incremental changes in existing programmes, so it can only be our impressionistic view that the
content of many established programmes (for example in mechanical engineering) has not
changed very significantly even in the first decades of the 21st century.
3. The ways in which students acquire knowledge and understanding
This is the area in which you might expect to see the most rapid and recent change. The arrival
of the internet and social media has opened up numerous new ways to access information. It
could be argued that knowledge acquisition (KA) is immensely simpler now than it was even ten
years ago, although the development of understanding, and the ability to organise and deploy
information usefully, still requires expert assistance. There is also an increased awareness that
individual students learn in very different ways. We might therefore expect the lecture to be dying
out, to be replaced by an armoury of alternative KA techniques including problem-based learning,
internet searching, Youtube, MOOCs, learning from peers, recorded lectures, MIT’s
Opencourseware, Khan Academy, reading books (yes, still!) and so on. The role of the academic
faculty member would in these scenarios change to one of advising, curating and supporting
student learning – effectively asking the students good questions. However, in our experience of
many university engineering programmes this has not yet happened to any great degree. There is
little evidence of a reduction in lecturing and only isolated outbreaks of significant use of
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
How they do it elsewhere
Some of the “early adopters” listed in the table are challenger institutions, and are distinguished
not least by their survival, in many cases for decades. All of those in the UK and USA which offer
named engineering degrees have been successful in having their awards accredited. Many of them
have annual student intakes in the hundreds, indicating that their chosen methodology is scalable.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that their graduates are highly employable and, where the evidence
exists, it shows that the programmes are attractive to women, with several institutions reporting
gender ratios close to 50:50.
Graham6has reported on the factors which have been responsible for successful change in
engineering education and several of the institutions in the table feature in her review. She
concludes that innovation only becomes successfully embedded when it is driven both from senior
with new and re-designed spaces for engineering. Among these are Liverpool with its Active
Learning Lab, Coventry’s Engineering and Computing Building, Sheffield with The Diamond and
the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence at the Lassonde School of Engineering in
More detail of specific individual innovations, together with case studies, can be found in the
booklets by Kamp2and Goodhew3, the book by Goldberg and Somerville4, together with the
proceedings of the twelve annual CDIO conferences5.
Among the largest group of recent innovators are the members of the CDIO network
(currently 140 institutions in more than 20 countries). The CDIO movement (Conceive, Design,
Implement, Operate6) is committed to active learning and emphasises employability skills. Other
innovators have been more radical, but are less widespread or well-networked. For brevity and to
make comparison easy, these and other institutions are listed in the table, together with their main
innovations and some other data.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
How they do it elsewhere
Institution/project Country Founded Students
per year
Key innovation Notes
Aalborg University Denmark 1974 1000 PBL
University College
Netherlands 2009 300 Multidisciplinary,
experiential, personalised
Liberal Arts and
CDIO [5] Worldwide 2000 >10000 DBT, employability skills Currently 140
Coventry University UK 2009 1000 Flipped classes,
student-centred learning,
new learning space,
See Graham [7]
EPICS USA 1995 >5000 Multidisciplinary projects
non-profits, vertical
teams including schools
Originally at
Purdue, now 15
Universities and
35 schools
Florida Polytechnic
USA 2014 500 Experiential learning,
industry partnerships
Harvey Mudd
USA 1955 250 Interdisciplinary,
experiential learning
Also oers liberal
Hong Kong
University of
Science &
Technology (HKUST)
China 2012 >1000 Smaller technical
content, more hands-on,
leadership training
See Graham [7].
They oer
“Engineering Plus”
iFoundry (Illinois) USA 2011 >300 Student-centred
Support to other
degrees [4]
Jacobs University Germany 2001 200 Interdisciplinary,
Lassonde School of
Canada 2012 900 New learning space Renaissance
Institution/project Country Founded Students
per year
Key innovation Notes
Liverpool University UK 2008 350 Active learning, new
learning space
CDIO partner [6]
Minerva University USA 2011 50 All online, with F2F
in dierent cities
Olin College USA 1997 85 Project-based, with
few lectures,
Penn State USA 1995 >100 Capstone project
within Learning
See Graham [7]
Australia 1996 200 PBL, professional
See Graham [7]
Quest University Canada 2007 200 Block system, arts
and science degree,
students design own
Singapore University
of Design and
Technology (SUDT)
Singapore 2012 350 Design focus With MIT (Stanford) USA 2005 650 Design focus,
experiential learning
Does not give its own
degrees – supports
Taylors University
Malaysia 2010 150 PBL, Celebration of
CDIO partner [6]
UCL Integrated
UK 2014 750 Multi-disciplinary
Only in 1st and 2nd
years so far. See
Graham [7]
Zeppelin University Germany 2003 400 Social innovation,
Accelerating the development of creative design
Mike Cook MA PhD DEng(Hon) CEng FIStructE FRSA FREng
It is well recognised that the UK needs more Engineers1 2 3 4, and that we need to find ways to
raise the level of creative design capability5. Creative design engineers can solve complex urban
and natural challenges. They do this by gathering evidence with which to understand systems, and
systems within systems, applying ideas from multiple specialist disciplines, to meet or exceed client
goals and humanity’s needs. Such capability is essential to our survival.
There has been a response to this need in education and industry but we are struggling to make
the crucial break-through. Industry engages with schools and universities to help raise design
awareness6, but this relies on individual relationships across many institutions and businesses.
These are hard to forge and hard to translate into meaningful, successful experiences for the
students. I believe that the time is right to create a Centre focussed on Creative Engineering
The Centre would provide schools, universities and industry with resources and development
opportunities for students and early career engineers. It would provide accelerated development
in a focussed environment for creative engineering design experience.
Here I am taking “Engineering Design” to mean the application of creativity, imagination and
technical knowledge for the production of a planned outcome that meets a practical need. This
goes beyond the analysis of a problem and requires the understanding of the physical processes
at work. It includes the synthesis of ideas and their application in new contexts. It is a highly
demanding activity that gets easier with experience but also requires a degree of aptitude and
early-career support in order to develop the confidence to try, fail and try again.
My personal focus relates to design in the built environment. Over the past forty years as a
practicing design engineer, I have recognised that our incoming graduates often have little or no
knowledge of the engineering design process, only of calculations and analysis. They have good
technical knowledge but have often lost sight of what inspired them towards engineering careers
and have not developed a capacity for creative engineering design. They need a lot of development
time post-graduation.
As a teacher of Creative Design to Civil Engineering students at Imperial College, I see students
are hungry to learn about the real value of engineers and to develop much needed creative skills.
These future engineers need to experience design projects with social, economic, environmental
impact and develop new skills through experience of idea creation and problem resolution8.
The industry and profession has been changing at such a fast pace that we now need to make
a leap in the way we teach but schools, colleges and businesses cannot do this in isolation.
Universities find it difficult to bring in teachers with the experience and teaching skills. In industry,
levels in the institution and by enthusiastic practitioners at the chalk-face.
Finally we will comment on what is perhaps a surprising omission from this survey: e-learning.
Although e-learning (a phrase which carries a variety of meanings) has been talked about
extensively for at least 3 decades, there are few examples – at least in engineering – where it has
enabled radical innovation. Of course, at the margins, technology has been very helpful. It permits
the storage of, and easy access to, recorded lectures, powerpoint presentations, in-lecture feedback,
notes, quizzes, a few simulations and some number-crunching software. But it has been far less
influential than the shift towards experiential learning, typified by DBT projects, PBL, team
projects and interdisciplinary work, none of which – of themselves – require e-learning. That is
one of the most encouraging messages from this survey: the education of engineers still requires
face-to-face human interaction, between and among staff and students. Indeed, one of the less-
well-publicised features of many of the innovative programmes listed in the table is their low
student-staff ratio – in many cases at 10 or below.
Peter Goodhew would like to thank the team at NMiTE, Kel Fidler, Ruth Graham and
colleagues at Liverpool and in CDIO for stimulating his interest in this topic.
1Tim Bullough and Diane Taktak, Pathways to Success in Engineering Degrees and Careers,
ISBN: 978-1-909327-12-2, Royal Academy of Engineering 2015
2Aldert Kamp, Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World, 2nd Ed.
ISBN: 978-94-6186-609-7, TU Delft 2016
2Peter Goodhew, Teaching Engineering, ISBN: 978-3-7375-3639-4, Royal Academy of
Engineering 2014. Also available on line at
3D E Goldberg and M Somerville, A Whole New Engineer : The Coming Revolution in Engineering
Education, Threejoy Associates 2014
4Proceedings of all CDIO international conferences can be found at
5Edward Crawley et al, Rethinking Engineering Education, the CDIO Approach, 2nd Ed, Springer
6Ruth Graham, Achieving Excellence in Engineering Education: The Ingredients of successful change,
ISBN: 1-903496-83-7, Royal Academy of Engineering 2012
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
How they do it elsewhere
However, there is a shortage of skilled teachers to teach “creative engineering design” to the
standards needed, they struggle to find enough quality local industrial assistance and they do not
know how to measure success.
There is no suitably “academic” Alevel that inspires deep engineering understanding and
inspires school pupils to study and pursue a career in engineering. So creative minds are diverted
into what are perceived to be more creative subjects like art and architecture. This means
universities attract engineering students who have not developed a creative culture. There is
pressure on schools to find ways to inspire young people into engineering, acquiring the
“Engineering habits of mind”.9
How to accelerate development
We need to provide the means for an intensified and unified experience to accelerate
development - a Centre for Engineering Design in the Built Environment “CEDBE”. The centre
will be like a gymnasium where people can have a “work-out” and get fitter. It will provide real
and virtual environments where people can congregate and work together creatively. See Fig 1.
The experience will involve working intensely on complex built environment challenges that
demand diverse ideas, testing against required outcomes and assembling coordinated solutions on
multiple levels. This will intensify design experience that could take far longer to realise in industry
and would be very hard to replicate in schools and universities.
It will inspire and motivate self-driven learning, leading to greater depth of understanding as
well as wider appreciation of context. Practical experience will help cement information into
learning. This would accelerate the creation of the kinds of engineering that are of greatest value
In addition, the Centre would provide opportunities for teachers to acquire new skills, school
pupils to be inspired into future engineering studies, university students to have collaborative
design experience within their studies and engineers in industry to have far more intensive
collaborative design experience.
Fig. 1 A Centre working across five stages of accelerated development
it can take too long to learn on the job and many graduates have to focus on the detail rather
than the bigger picture. It simply takes too long to translate a talented individual from student to
skilled creative engineer. These people are so vital to us that we need to accelerate the process.
I believe we need a place where young emerging engineers, taken from schools, universities or
practice can come together with their peers and gain intensive design experience learning multi-
disciplinary, collaborative, design-skills. It would be a place to conduct research and develop into
new approaches to accelerated development to help raise the value of engineers and support the
development of a more effective and supporting built infrastructure. And, it would be a place
that takes advantage of the rapid development of digital technology.
This paper expands these ideas further, looking at the essential components of the experience,
and some ways that organisations might come together and help make a Centre for Engineering
Design a reality. I hope that in considering the first steps we can provoke a debate, learn from
each other’s experience and start to make plans.
The case for the Creative Design Engineer
A “creative” design engineer brings a mix of vital talents to a design team. They will have a
depth of expertise in a specialist field that allows them to contribute very specific insight to a
problem. This specialism provides the lens through which they look at a problem, assess the best
response and test the outcomes against the brief. They also need to have an underlying
appreciation of the power of engineering to effect change for the good or for harm, and a sense
of purpose that will drive them forward as agents of effective change. This needs to be fostered
and encouraged as it drives their motivation to strive for newer and more effective solutions. They
also need to have developed skills that allow the individual to harness the power of a group
towards a desired outcome, to communicate the value of what they could do or have done, to
inspire others to act. When these three attributes – technical knowledge, a drive to find the right
solution and a desire to communicate - are under-pinned by experience, they are able to bring to
the table a creative capacity to their engineering that brings real value.
How to develop Creative Engineering Designers
The three key words that I use when teaching Creative Engineering Design at Imperial College
are “Inspire, teach, experience”. It is crucial to inspire students to want to learn more, to show
them the practical good that engineering can do, to show them positive outcomes that they can
align with emotionally. It is perfectly feasible to teach students techniques that enhance creativity.
It is essential to experience working in a collaborative environment, see how to behave in
collaborating groups of specialists and communicate their thinking and solutions to others
Why it is not yet working
This is a shared problem across educators, professions and industry that operate in the built
environment sector. This means that it requires a shared solution rather than isolated approaches
at each stage of an individual’s development.
The quality of design engineering thinking is certainly starting to improve in some notable
cases and the JBM has set an expectation that institutions will provide “threads” of design learning.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Accelerating the development of creative design engineers
School University Industry
12 34 5
Centre for
Engineering Design
or practice can come together with their peers and gain intensive design experience in collaborative
groups on inspiring challenges, practising creative thinking and gaining real insight into the
processes they need to use. Supported by academic and professional institutions as well as by
consultants and contractors this could have a profound impact on the quality of UK’s engineers
and the quality of our built environment.
The Centre would provide short (from one day to two weeks) design workshops with a longer-
term guided study syllabus leading to supplementary qualifications/certification. The Centre would
undertake research into engineering design education, publish guides for schools and institutions
seeking to raise their own capabilities and become a voice of built environment engineering
The rapid development of digital technology has changed the way we understand the built
environment and can change how we teach. Technology is providing ways to reach a wider cohort
of people who can collaborate remotely through shared models, real-time communication and
on-line workshops. This has the potential to make the Centre highly effective and reach out to
many thousands in ways that has not been possible before.
How could this become a reality?
The Centre for Engineering Design in the Built Environment (CEDBE) would learn from the
Constructionarium and other centres. It would not be about physical construction but about
design for the built environment engineering at all scales: cities, districts, infrastructure and
buildings. It would be about the human, economic and environmental impact of engineering and
the development of the skills needed to succeed in this space. It would be organised to inspire
people in the vital importance of an engineer in society and to help them discover the tools they
need to engage in this valuable profession. It would teach them the value of collaboration and
give them the tools for creative thinking.
The Centre needs to be co-owned by people that need it – industry and universities. It might
be seen as an equivalent to the Future Cities Catapult and could spawn multiple centres.
Initially it could exist as a “summer school” based at a supporting university and seed-funded
by industry and academia. This could provide a “proof of concept” and demonstrate the level of
interest. The funding would enable the teaching and supporting staff to run short courses at
different levels over a period of up to six weeks. Attendees would fund accommodation and
contribute to costs. A fruitful area for focus could be school students a year ahead of university
entry where they can raise their skills and demonstrate a level of design understanding to potential
universities where they are competing for places. This would also help universities in their selection.
Concluding comments
There is abundant evidence that educators and businesses understand the need and they are
doing something about it13 1 4 15 16 17 . Our professional institutions and academies are providing
support in various ways. However, the results are fragmented. There are activities in many places
with varying degrees of success. I believe we need to pull these efforts together. We all recognise
the need to provide inspiring, practice-based, creative engineering experiences at every age group
if we are to attract and retain enough people with enough enthusiasm, drive and skill to become
valuable engineers for life. A Centre that provides access to this for all age groups at any time
1. Supporting in schools, developing early appreciation and making engineering tangible
2. Supporting universities in selection of individuals likely to succeed in engineering design
3. Developing engineering design skills and inspiring a desire to discover more
4. Supporting industry in selecting individuals that best fit their needs
5. Helping industry accelerate development of design capability in a diversely cohort of
Examples of success
Olin College of Engineering10
Olin College of Engineering in the US has established its “collaboratory”, dedicated to “co-
designing transformational educational experiences with and for other institutions”. They “join
up leaders in education, business and government seeking to change education to spur the
technical innovation necessary to take on society’s big challenges.” This is helping teaching
institutions change the way they teach and inspires them to go through that pain of change. The
“Olin way” encourages creativity in every aspect of the student experience. It emphasises the
need for fun and for students to be able to influence the direction of their work.
In 2002 a project was started that has made a big impact on the education of engineers and
giving them hands on experience of the act of creating big-scale engineering projects. The
Constructionarium was borne of some visionary thinking meeting a clear business need.
Contractors and consultants could not find engineers who really understood the act of
engineering. So industry had to do a lot of development work on emerging graduates which cost
a lot of time and money.
The Constructionarium allows students to go to a Centre where they spend a week planning
and undertaking the construction of towers, masts, and bridges at large scale. They experience
the real trials and tribulations of programming, budgets, health and safety and team-work. They
discover that real engineering construction is a multi-faceted team activity. Most importantly, they
discover it is exciting, stimulating and something worth building a career around.
Cambridge IDBE12
In Cambridge, the Institute for Sustainability Leadership runs a Masters in “Interdisciplinary
Design for the Built Environment”. This provides a valuable location for people from industry
to gather and develop their skills across a broader front that might be possible back in their work-
place. Their employers know that they will come back rejuvenated and with a valuably widened
perspective on what they do and what their future could encompass. This demonstrates the value
of short-term experience and exposure and shows that employers are willing to invest. Yet it
cannot provide this for the range of age groups that need it and it operates at small scale.
How is the Centre for Design dierent?
The Centre would provide a place where young emerging engineers from schools, universities
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Accelerating the development of creative design engineers
Vertically integrated projects:
transforming higher education
Professor Stephen Marshall, University of Strathclyde
Let’s start with a controversial statement: The current structure of university courses
means that our undergraduate students are being prevented from achieving their true
Ask yourself why the most ambitious people like Messrs Gates, Branson and Zuckerberg failed
to complete their degrees. The answer is that they were eager to work on the difficult stuff and
did not want to sit passively in lecture theatres all day.
So what are we doing wrong?
The answer is summed up in one word compartmentalisation.
Look at any successful organisation in any market sector and you will see a range of people, at
different stages of their careers, from different backgrounds working together to a common
purpose and communicating effectively across these boundaries.
So how do we prepare our young people for this world of work?
We currently prepare them by only allowing them to work with students in the same academic
year and the same course. So they are, with a few exceptions, the same age, and possess the same
basic knowledge. There is no understanding of hierarchy or specialism.
We even keep the research staff separate from undergraduates whereas the staff are in fact,
ideal role models. In some institutions the most research active academic staff never come into
contact with undergraduates.
How do we teach students to tackle big challenging projects?
We do this by fragmenting their education into academic years so that no single piece of work
can last more than a few months before we get them to write it up and move on. Then we start
all over again with a different group of students.
So how do we break this cycle and give our students the education they deserve and which will
benefit the country as a whole?
All educators in all countries talk about more cross-disciplinary/multi-disciplinary, research-
led, and peer-to-peer learning, but how do we actually deliver it?
The answer is Vertically Integrated Projects, or VIP for short.
VIP has been honed over many years in the US ( and in the last 6 years has
been implemented at University of Strathclyde ( not just in
Engineering but right across the curriculum. There is now a consortium of VIP active Universities
led by Georgia Tech of which Strathclyde is a founder member (
In VIP, the traditional barriers between courses, academic years, academic generations, and
research/teaching are broken down. This not only produces excellent education and employment-
ready graduates, it also delivers real scientific and sociological advancements.
There are millions of undergraduates in the country, they represent a great untapped resource
would provide the big step forward needed to accelerate the process for developing these creative
design engineers.
These skills, combining technical and analytical capability with creative design and collaborative
attributes, are what engineers need to meet society’s needs. This is what employers are looking
for and strive to find. Creative Design Engineers have real value and are well worth the investment.
1Royal Academy of Engineering: Educating Engineers for the 21st Century, June 2007, Professor
Julia E King CBE FREng, Vice Chancellor, Aston University
2Perkins, J., Review of Engineering Skills, EPC Congress (2013)
3Royal Academy of Engineering (2013b), Skills for the nation: engineering undergraduates in the UK,
London: Royal Academy of Engineering.
4Harrison, M. (2012), Jobs and Growth: the importance of engineering skills to the UK economy,
London: Royal Academy of Engineering
5Royal Academy of Engineering: Educating Engineers to Drive the Innovation Economy, April 2012,
Dr David Grant CBE FREng
6Royal Academy of Engineering, Effective industrial engagement in engineering education – A good
practice guide, (2016) Oliver Broadbent, Think Up and Ed McCann, Think Up
7Royal Academy of Engineering: Thinking Like an Engineer: The Implications for the Education
System, May 2014, Professor Helen Atkinson CBE FREng, University of Leicester
8Royal Academy of Engineering: Achieving excellence in engineering education: the ingredients of
successful change, March 2012, Professor Edward Crawley FREng
9Royal Academy of Engineering: Learning to be an Engineer: the implications for the Education
System, March 2017, Professor Bill Carter Centre for Real World Learning, University of
10 Olin:
11 Constructionarium: Making to Learn, Hugh Ferguson, Useful Simple Projects Limited,
trading as: Thomas Matthews Communication Design.
12 IDBE:
13 Royal Academy of Engineering 2016, Experience-led learning for engineers – A good practice guide,
Oliver Broadbent, Think Up and Ed McCann, Think Up
14 ‘Effective Industrial Engagement’, Royal Academy of Engineering, Educating Engineers for the
21st Century. (The Royal Academy of Engineering, 2007)
15 Goodhew, P. J., Teaching Engineering - all you need to know about engineering education but were afraid
to ask (The Higher Education Academy, 2010)
16 Graham, R. ‘UK Approaches to Engineering Project-Based Learning’, Engineering 48 (2010)
17 Ressler, S. (United S. M. A. at W. P.) Using questioning to enhance student engagement (2012)
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Accelerating the development of creative design engineers
setting a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG No.7) dedicated to ensuring access to affordable,
reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. The challenge has an added dimension when
considering the international community’s drive towards a global low carbon economy, and the
need to ensure that our environment is not compromised in the pursuit of this energy access goal.
Meeting these challenges has been the inspiration and driving force for the Sustainable Energy
for Development (SE4D) VIP at Strathclyde. The SE4D VIP recruits undergraduates from across
the University each year to make their own contribution to this global challenge. This contribution
has focused on the design and development of reliable and sustainable off-grid renewable energy
systems that can provide affordable electricity for some of the poorest and most vulnerable
communities in the world, harnessing the engineering and economic expertise of UoS staff and
students to innovate in the areas of power system design, ICT technology and business
Example of long running VIP at Georgia Tech
The eStadium VIP employs an array of sensor networks to deliver real time information to
smart phones during American Football games. This is all run by students and now attracts
substantial advertising revenue.
1E.J. Coyle, J.V. Krogmeier, R.T. Abler, et al, ‘The Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP)
Program – Leveraging Faculty Research Interests to Transform Undergraduate STEM
Education’, Proceedings of the Transforming Institutions: 21st Century Undergraduate STEM
Education Conference, Indianapolis IN, Oct. 23-24, 2014.
2E.J. Coyle, J.V. Krogmeier, R.T. Abler, et al, ‘The Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP)
Program: Leveraging Faculty Research Interests to Transform Undergraduate STEM
Education,’ Chapter in Transforming Institutions: Undergraduate STEM Education for the 21st
Century, edited by G.C. Weaver, W.D. Burgess, et al; Purdue University Press, IN 2015;
3J. Melkers, A. Kiopa, R.T. Abler, et al, ‘The Social Web of Engineering Education:
Knowledge Exchange in Integrated Project Teams’, Proceedings of the 2012 ASEE Annual
Conference and Exposition, San Antonio, TX, June 10-13, 2012.
whose efforts can be channelled to the public good given the correct time, context and mentoring.
In 2012 the University of Strathclyde launched its own VIP program and now has over 200
students engaged on 9 projects ranging from hard science to English Literature to International
Development. This builds on the ethos of Useful Learning evidenced by the recently opened £89
million Technology Innovation Centre.
So what are Vertically Integrated Projects?
VIPs are projects, led by academics but engaging 10-25 students from different courses and
different years. The students receive academic credit for their participation in VIP, which
corresponds to around 1/6 of an academic year.
The projects run over several academic years with the senior students graduating, the junior
years advancing into more senior roles, and new students joining. They gain direct experience of
leadership, planning, communication, research, conflict resolution and fund raising.
VIP students are in demand by employers because they realise that these students can rapidly
adapt to the workplace. Non-VIP students can take years to learn how to function in a
multidisciplinary environment.
VIP is not an end in itself, it is a vehicle to both unlock and channel the energy and potential
of the vast community of undergraduate students. The current focus on Global Challenges is a
perfect forum for students from different disciplines to come together and realise real benefits,
VIP can be the mechanism to deliver those benefits.
In addition this, Vertically Integrated Projects have been demonstrated to be Multi Disciplinary,
Cost Effective, Scalable and Sustainable.
The following pages provide examples of four Engineering VIPs at Strathclyde.
In addition to the roll out in Engineering the benefits of VIP have been demonstrated in other
disciplines including Entrepreneurship, English Literature, STEM Education, Drama and the Life
Sciences1 2 3.
Examples of Vertically Integrated Projects in Engineering
Drug Discovery Project
The Drug Discovery Project started as Polarised Growth in 2012 and brings together students
from Biology, Image Processing and Maths to model the behaviour of Streptomyces Growth and
improve yield. The new Drug Discovery VIP uses Hyperspectral Imaging to identify new
Rover VIP
The goal of ROVER is to design, build and develop completely autonomous, robotic vehicles
to enable environmental sensing and interaction in the environment and the smart cities of the
future. The project goals are flexible between years and will educate and train students in any
aspect of robotic systems relevant to their interests and discipline.
Sustainable Energy for Development SE4D VIP
One in five people in the world live without access to electricity (1.2 billion people). The United
Nations’ have sought to engage the international community in addressing this global issue by
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Vertically integrated projects: transforming higher education
Industry-ready graduates through curriculum
Allan, D.G. and Rowsell, G.D., Harper Adams University
Institutions that provide degree courses which demonstrate high employability and high
graduate starting salaries will be more attractive to prospective students, and within the changing
funding environment are likely to command the greater opportunities to access available funding
whilst also satisfying the assessment criteria of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
However, achieving these goals is becoming increasingly challenging - with engineering employers
having expressed dissatisfaction with the output from Universities due to the lack of industry
readiness of graduates, and the consequential shifting focus towards Higher and Degree Level
This paper explains the decisions and actions taken to produce a degree course which develops
the technical ability required of an engineer, but also develops the confidence, self-belief and
professional behaviours which are required for the graduate engineer to function within an
industrial organisation. This can be described as the difference between ‘knowing engineering’
and ‘being an engineer’.
In order to deliver this dual requirement, a new approach to curriculum design was deemed
necessary and so it was necessary to create a new curriculum from first principles. Utilising a pull-
centric process-based model to ensure that the curriculum is designed from the perspective of
being a ‘delivery process’, which incorporates a combination of learning streams that are designed
to achieve a series of capability outcomes. The pull-centric nature of the learning process dictates
that the learning programme is developed in reverse order with the final ‘output’ capabilities
dictating the prior ‘input’ learning need. This logic ensures that the learning at all levels is relevant
and valid.
It is anticipated that this course programme will guarantee a minimum threshold of capability
across the student cohort.
Keywords: Curriculum design, curriculum map, engineering education, TEF, employability,
graduateness, capability
Institutions that provide degree courses which demonstrate high employability and high
graduate starting salaries will be more attractive to prospective students, and within the changing
funding environment these same institutions are more likely to command the greater opportunities
to access available funding whilst also satisfying the assessment criteria of the Teaching Excellence
Framework (TEF). However, achieving these goals is becoming increasingly challenging - with
engineering employers having expressed dissatisfaction with the output from Universities due to
the lack of industry readiness of the graduates11 and the political shifting of focus towards Higher
and Degree Level Apprenticeships. The challenges for Engineering HE providers are therefore
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Figure 1. The Process Quality Model
Creating a process-based curriculum, which is designed to deliver specific outcomes, must be
developed as a pull-centric process-based model. The pull-centric nature of the learning process
dictates that the learning programme is developed in reverse order with the final output’
capabilities dictating the prior ‘input’ learning need. This logic ensures that the learning at all levels
is relevant and valid by providing a mechanism that also ensures that content which is not required
is not incorporated (for example, topics that would typically be justified solely on the basis of
historical inclusion). The implementation of this relies on a top-down approach6, to ensure that
the whole programme is cohesive and delivers progression. The start point of this process is the
definition of outcomes (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Source of Programme Capability Outcomes (adapted 4 10)
If one considers the diagram below, which illustrates the developmental journey of the learner,
and then reads this in reverse: in order for the graduate to function in an employed professional
role they need to have the knowledge and capability to know what to do and to make correct
decisions. This phronesis is gained through progression through the programme, illustrated here
using a modified version of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Figure 3).
to beneficially differentiate their output from these apprenticeship programmes and to provide
an education programme and qualified capability that matches with post-millennial expectations7
and employer requirements.
Whilst working to achieve this, curriculum designers’ are required to address a number of
contributing factors which have traditionally had a negative influence on achieving this desired
programme output.
One such barrier relates to the traditional ‘bottom-up’ curricular development model6, where
the standard approach to Higher Education (HE) delivery is through the use of a series of discreet
modules, with each module assigned to a single academic member or team - with the module
owner then deciding upon the content, delivery and assessment, often directed by the preferences
of the deliverer. These decisions will normally be based upon prior practice, usually with the
needs of the programme considered as a secondary requirement, and often result in modules in
which the content is skewed by personal preference. Further, there is also a generic assumption
that the synthesis practiced by students during the later stages of the course will just happen, with
little thought as to how, where and when.
Another condition, which has a particular relevance to STEM subject areas, is the ‘shelf-life’
of knowledge. It is accepted that science and technology subjects evolve at a rapid pace and
therefore facts, knowledge and theories can become out-of-date quite soon after graduation,
certainly within the first 10 years of employment. Therefore, any course that prioritises knowledge
over capability will have a limited value for both graduate and employer. In the circumstance
where the capability development focusses on professional behaviours, practices and lifelong
learning, the knowledge base and therefore positive contribution made by the graduate will be
continually refreshed.
This paper explains the decisions and actions taken to produce a new engineering learning
programme model designed to achieve a threshold of industry ready engineering capability at
graduation through mitigation of the risks previously identified.
TQM for curriculum design
In order to create a curriculum, which extrinsically develops the threshold of industry ready
engineering capability in all graduates, a new approach to curriculum design is required. The
project to design a new curriculum has been considered from first principles, from the perspective
of industrial quality assurance management i.e. y=f(x), which recognises that variation in the
outcome of a process is caused by variation in inputs to the process and process influencing
factors5. Therefore, variation in the industry capability of the graduate is caused by variation in
the learning programme and in its inputs.
In order to manage the variation to ensure achievement above a capability threshold, the
process, process inputs and process influencing factors need to be correctly specified and
controlled. This curriculum design process must therefore ensure that the correct specification is
identified and maintained and that poor quality practice is prevented.
In some fields of study, it is normal to assume that if ‘results’ are acceptable then the ‘process’
itself must be working. However this logic provides no guarantee that the future results will be
acceptable as the process to deliver them is unknown or un-controlled. The Process Quality Model
proposes that control of the ‘Process’ will provide the ‘Results’ (y=f(x)), this is illustrated in the
Process Quality Model (Figure 1).
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Industry-ready graduates through curriculum design
It is therefore proposed that capability is dependent upon higher-level competence in both of
the learning areas and in the two enablers. Recognising these additional requirements is important
in developing an increased industry ready engineering capability at graduation.
This resulting pull-centric process based curriculum model is illustrated below, showing the
two primary learning streams (behaviour and technical). The diagram illustrates the learning
streams, and the ‘keystone’ final year project (which combines the streams and hence demonstrates
capability), the initial employment phase, and the development to chartered status.
Figure 5. The pull-centric process based curriculum model
As the two learning streams differ in purpose they will need to be structured in a manner
appropriate to maximise the learning gain, as follows:
The knowledge stream (light blue) focusses upon the development of the knowledge and
understanding of the subject specific theories, tools, techniques, etc. This knowledge is
cumulative and assimilative, mechanistic, contextually relevant and learning is developed
through experiential reinforcement. This knowledge and understanding enables the students
to do engineering.
The professional practice stream (dark blue) provides the learning into methods, practices,
procedures and behaviours. This learning is structured in application, in a scaffolded learning
environment, with predetermined outcomes and is facilitated experiential learning. This
process is an experiential “learning journey”. This knowledge and understanding enables
students to be an engineer.
The knowledge stream can be further viewed as a combination of two sub-streams - core
engineering knowledge and field specific knowledge (Figure 6).
Figure 6. The pull-centric process based curriculum model – extended to include field specific knowledge.
Figure 3. The developmental journey of the learner
Feedback from employers has confirmed that within any profession the subject knowledge
alone does not provide sufficient capability to function effectively in a given role. Being able to
recall information does not guarantee success and certainly does not enable an engineer to engage
with others. Engineering is an applied science and therefore knowledge of the science is
insufficient without the ability to apply the knowledge to a situation. It is proposed that the
application, implementation and organisational skills have always had a greater impact on success
than the knowledge elements. Normally this application and behavioural development is gained
during employment, and is often learned through observation of others and trial and error.
The Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes1standard supports the view that industry
ready capability requires the graduate to have not just a strong technical ability but also the
professional behaviours that are required for the graduate engineer to function within an industrial
organisation. This can be described as the difference between ‘knowing engineering’ and ‘being
an engineer’.
Subject knowledge and subject professional behaviours are learned in different ways and
require different methods and practices for learning, practice and retrieval. The extended learning
taxonomy model (Figure 4) illustrates the parallel development of these two core contributing
factors. It is also recognised that in order to fully access the learning provided, and to function
effectively as an Engineer, the graduate will require both motivation and self-belief as enablers
for learning and engagement. An undergraduate lacking sufficient intrinsic motivation and/or
confidence, will lack the resilience, or ‘grit’ required to fully engage with the challenges faced
when problem solving.
Figure 4. The Extended Learning Taxonomy Model (adapted 2)
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Industry-ready graduates through curriculum design
The first of these two sub-streams provides the core engineering knowledge and understanding
required by the Engineering Council. This stream contains the learning content which will enable
the student to apply mechanical engineering theories to a given application. The second sub-
stream focusses upon the field specific knowledge and understanding required for a graduate to
apply the engineering core knowledge into a specialist field (with capability output specified by
industry). When combined the learning gain from these streams forms the Engineering
Knowledge required by the field of engineering.
Having selected the most appropriate means to construct the learning streams, the next
challenge is to devise the most effective way to enable the learning in each of these streams.
Typically, degree programmes are based upon the delivery of knowledge based learning as
discrete, separate modules in which content is grouped by field - such as hydraulics, electronics,
mathematics, thermodynamics, etc. In this model, students learn the theory then practice some
application as reinforcement.
The practice of engineering, however, is essentially problem solving and most often involves
the selection and application of the most appropriate technology to a given situation. The
knowledge and understanding elements of the field revolve around knowing which technologies
could be selected, and understanding the relative benefits and risks associated with each
technology, and selecting the best for the given problem. In the new curriculum model the core
engineering theory, technology, etc. has therefore been grouped by application so that the
knowledge retrieval is application based rather than technology based. Furthermore, subsequent
modules are designed to combine and reinforce prior learning, for example: the module
Instrumentation and Control is preceded by the two modules Measurement and Actuation. By this means
the learning is logically sequential and more readily accessible. This is illustrated in Figure 7, with
an example of a fully implemented curriculum map provided in Figure 8.
How will this curriculum model mitigate the identified concerns?
Implemented effectively this curriculum model will provide for a more deliberate and focussed
outcome. The programme of learning will define output capability expectations, ensure that
content and level match output capability expectations, and thereby drive learning gain in a
holistically planned manner to ensure that the following issues are mitigated (and hence ensure a
minimum threshold of capability across the student cohort).
Competition from other learning providers
Ensure graduate level employability by locking employer relevant content into the delivery,
and designing learning programmes to meet the needs of identified graduate career roles.
Loss of engagement through inability to see relevance of content
The validity and authenticity of the learning plan is evidenced by an explainable curriculum
map with an observable relationship between content and employment opportunities, and being
able to demonstrate how learning builds towards a designed outcome. It is normal for some
students to struggle to engage with the learning unless they can understand and accept the
relevance. In those instances where the course team have confirmed the relevance of the content
with respected employers, and demonstrated this to the students, it will be accepted.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Industry-ready graduates through curriculum design
Figure 7. The pull-centric process based curriculum model – extended to core engineering knowledge breakdown.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Industry-ready graduates through curriculum design
Figure 8. An example of an operational curriculum map.
1Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes, 3rd ed., EngC, 2014.
2L. W. Anderson and D.R. Krathwohl, Eds., A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A
revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, Longman, 2001.
3C. Baillie, P. Goodhew and E. Skryabina, ‘Threshold concepts in engineering education –
Exploring potential blocks in student understanding’, Int. J. Engng Ed, vol.22, no. 5, pp955 –
962, 2006.
4J. Biggs and C. Tang, Teaching for quality learning at university, 1st ed., Philadelphia, Pa, USA:
McGraw-Hill/Society for Research into Higher Education, 2011.
5H. Harrington, The Lean Six Sigma Handbook. Portland, Or, USA: Productivity, 2013.
6Higher Education Academy Engineering Subject Centre, Engineering Subject Centre Guide:
Assessment of Learning Outcomes, Loughborough, Engineering Subject Centre, 2005
7D. Knowlton and K. Hagopian, From Entitlement to Engagement, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
8J.H.F Meyer and R. Land, Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge Linkages to Ways of
Thinking and Practising in Improving Student Learning – Ten Years On, C. Rust (ed), Oxford:
OCSLD, 2003.
9J. Meyer, Threshold concepts and transformational learning, 1st ed, Rotterdam: Sense Publ., pp 10,
10 J. Moon, The Module & Programme Development Handbook, 1st ed., London: Kogan Page, 2002.
11 W. Wakeham, Wakeham Review of STEM degree provision and graduate employability, BIS, 2016.
Diculty in synthesis
Whenever learning activities are written for ease of delivery, rather than ease of learning, there
will be a consequential loss of engagement and difficulties with synthesis. By deconstructing the
traditional modules and combining knowledge areas based upon application rather than
technology field will built synthesis in to the learning programme. Modules may need to be
retained if they are the standard unit of delivery within the institution, however the learning need
should be the driving force behind selection of topics, timing, delivery style and assessment
method. The learning programme should not be modularised for the ease of module management
and workload planning, it should be constructed to maximise learning gain in spite of
consequential difficulties with workload administration.
Shelf-life of content
This is of particular importance when considering the learning of ‘troublesome knowledge’
and ‘threshold concepts’3 8 9. Threshold concepts are more important than the topics. The topics
can and often will become out of date within a predictable period, however the threshold concepts
will remain for a lifetime. For example, new developments in project management will produce
new design processes during the career lifetime of the graduate so any standard method learned
at university will become out-of-date – however the understanding and belief in the benefits of
detailed planning, frontloading, and concurrent engineering, being threshold concepts, will remain
relevant and will drive learning in the future. As it is understood that threshold concepts have a
greater relevance on learning and capability development, it is imperative that the threshold
concepts are identified in parallel with the ILOs prior to the design of assessments and the
learning plan10.
Module content is biased to preference of an academic without confirmation of
relevance or balance to the programme or future
It is imperative that an effective learning programme is designed holistically, to avoid the
content selection biases, and to ensure that the learning content and practices have a valued
contribution to the course, e.g. constructive alignment model4. A top-down, pull-centric, process-
based course programme, by its very nature, identifies course content, content learning timing,
and weighting at a course level. If the course programme is written so that content and delivery
is appropriate to the needs of the outcome capability, it cannot then be influenced by personal
biases. Further, this also ensures that contemporary topics of an unfamiliar nature which are
recent requirements will be included and that more traditional material is included if required and
replaced if not.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Industry-ready graduates through curriculum design
An Engineering Renaissance
Janusz A. Koziński and Eddy F. Evans, Lassonde School of Engineering, Toronto,
The Engineering and Technology Skills and Demand in Industry report 2016 should be a wake-
up call for engineering educators. This is not the first time the alarm has been raised by employers
both in the UK and in many other countries, including Canada and the United States.
This same message is repeated time and time again by employers, both empirically and
anecdotally, yet progress remains sluggish at best. Engineering educators cannot continue to simply
hit ‘snooze’ and hope the problem will go away.
In the simplest terms, at the root of the problem is a system of undergraduate engineering
education that’s designed primarily around the needs of 4% of students. Only four out of every
100 students in the UK enrolling in engineering degree programmes go on to undertake a PhD.
It’s unsurprising that a system created with the intention of preparing young minds for advanced
research is ill-suited to the expectations of the remaining 96% of students.
Engineering educators need to radically rethink the learning experience for students. This isn’t
something that can be fixed by tinkering around the edges of the curriculum or simply introducing
more internships.
A more fundamental rethink is overdue. We need to flip engineering education from being a
pursuit focused around the 4%, to one that’s primarily designed around 96% students who are
seeking careers outside academia.
Engineering education should focus on serving its primary constituents:
Students: offering a fulfilling, relevant and stimulating learning experience that prepares them
for the employment market.
Employers: developing students with the skills and the mindset to meet the needs of
Economy: producing diverse talented ‘doers’ who will create jobs that don’t yet exist and drive
sustainable growth that generates prosperity while protecting our society and preserving our
This is not a zero sum game. We can still provide ample opportunities for the 4% seeking an
academic career, and indeed for every undergraduate to understand the value and impact of
research. As engineering educators we must shift our focus to our primary constituents - students,
employers and the national economy - and create new models designed around their needs.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
“More than 700 studies have confirmed that lectures are less effective than a wide range of methods for achieving
almost every educational goal you can think of. Even for the straightforward objective of transmitting factual
information, they are no better than a host of alternatives, including private reading. Moreover, lectures inspire
students less than other methods, and lead to less study afterwards.” ‘Lectures don’t work, but we keep using
As engineering education has expanded, the reflex of universities seeking to increase student
numbers has been to simply add more ‘bums on seats’ in the lecture hall.
The lecture model that’s still pervasive, particularly in the crucial early stages of an engineering
degree, reduces the learning experience to a dissemination of knowledge where a student passively
ingests information. Students then undertake assignments away from the classroom, often
struggling alone or seeking quick fixes to pass tests by cramming or taking shortcuts.
We don’t have lectures in secondary schools so why should we have them in universities?
3. ‘Survival of the Fittest’ Culture
While most engineering educators would no longer dare to utter the admonition: ‘look to your
right, look to your left, only one of you will be here next semester’ on the first day of classes, the
‘survival of the fittest’ culture remains endemic in engineering schools.
The experience of engineering students is dominated by an overwhelming battery of testing
and measurement. This inevitably leads to a culture of competition and comparison, rather than
collaboration and cooperation.
While many engineering educators have sought to emphasize the need for group projects, these
cannot flourish in an atmosphere of competition where sharing is viewed with suspicion and
where the emphasis remains on competing against one another.
“Most young women — and lots of men, as well — don’t want to be in an environment where you are constantly
expected to prove that you are better than other people. They are much more comfortable in an environment where
everyone works together to make everyone more successful. By contrast, the testosterone culture is highly competitive
Section A: What’s Wrong
1. Theoretical Content
Figure 1. Trend of the Engineering Education over the Years: Practical versus Theory (adapted 6)
This revealing chart in Figure 1 is taken from a report on the Evolution of American
Engineering Education produced for the 2015 Conference for Industry and Education
Collaboration. If Canadian or British educators were to plot similar data, the result would likely
be very similar.
If we agree that engineering is a process – rather than simply a body of knowledge dominated
by mathematics and science – then this chart suggests that the education system has lost touch
with the roots of a profession where theory and practice should go hand-in-hand.
Even a cursory review of the typical undergraduate engineering courses that a student must
complete reveals an experience that’s focused almost exclusively on abstract concepts and theory
without context or real-world application.
“We don’t have, from our point of view, the right approach to educate our young engineers. Students in university
or college learn all the technical basics from a theoretical point of view, but they don’t really focus on the practical
implementation of those learned skills into the real world. It’s frustrating for the students, but it’s also frustrating
for us. When young people come into our company, they have a lot of new, creative ideas. It’s really refreshing to
see it. What they lack is the ability to implement them in a company environment,” quotes Robert Hardt,
CEO of Siemens Canada3.
We have reduced engineering education to a production line where students undertake courses
as if they were on a conveyor belt or more accurately a fast treadmill where theoretical
knowledge is poured-in and then simply regurgitated in what seems like an endless round of
2. Outdated Learning Model
Before we explore the latest teaching and learning methodologies that are being continuously
developed by educators across the world, we need to acknowledge a simple truth: lectures don’t
Even in this image (Figure 2) from 1350, one can still see that the students are not
concentrating and are talking to one another during the lecture. The notion that young people
can best understand concepts by passively listening to a professor imparting knowledge must be
refuted once and for all.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
An Engineering Renaissance
Figure 2. Illustration from a fourteenth-centur y manuscript shows Henry of Germany delivering a lecture to university students in
Bologna. Artist: Laurentius de Voltolina; Liber ethicorum des Henricus de Alemannia; Kupferstichkabinett SMPK,
Berlin/Staatliche Museen Preussiischer Kulturbesitz, Min. 1233
Learning at the University of Winchester.8
Too many students are ‘flying blind’ when they select a degree in engineering.
The first time a student will meet an engineering professor will likely be on their first day of
class, and even then they’ll likely be stood at the front of an auditorium full of hundreds of
students in the same boat.
Similarly, the first time many undergraduate students consider their future career trajectory and
begin to contemplate their life after graduation will be in the later stages of their university lives.
Much more needs to be done to break down walls and to build new bridges for the benefit of
students and their future employers.
5. Lack of Gender Diversity
We are all better off when the people taking decisions are a mixture of women and men. The increasing
presence of women in cabinets, in boardrooms and in positions of leadership throughout our society gives us a
balanced perspective on the challenges ahead of us. If we can get more women involved in building what are the
foundations of our lives - our cities, our health, our infrastructure - we will all benefit.7
Once bastions of the male elite, professions like medicine, law and architecture have made
notable progress on this challenge. A few decades ago, Canadian law schools were largely male.
Today, the majority (53%) of law students are female.
The same cannot be said for engineering. Using almost every measure available, the
representation and the opportunities for women are unacceptable.
Engineering schools must accept their share of the blame. The enrolment rates for female
students remain pitifully low.
In Canada, the share of women in undergraduate enrolments peaked in 2001 at 21%. and
declined thereafter to 17.1% in 2008. The figure now stands at 20%. In 2015, the Lassonde School
of Engineering launched the 50:50 Challenge to become the first engineering school in Canada
to achieve a 50:50 gender balance, and was followed in 2015 by the University of British Columbia,
which has pledged to achieve 50% female enrolment by 20201.
It’s a stubborn problem that’s shown a remarkable resistance to efforts by many in academia
and the profession to shift the needle. We have seen occasional spikes in female enrolment, but
we have failed to translate this into a sustained change over time.
It’s finally time to confront the failures of attempts to tackle this disparity. They haven’t worked.
We cannot go on patting ourselves on the back for the outreach programmes that have been put
in place by engineering educators across the globe when these have not delivered results. At the
same time, we can’t just blame the media for portraying stereotypical imagery of engineers or
claim this is a societal issue that’s too big to fix.
Engineers, and schools, in particular, need to be prepared to take a long hard look inwards to
the prejudices and biases that have remained untouched for too long. They also need to look
outwards to organizations that have begun to successfully tackle this issue and to leaders in other
professions who began to face up to this problem long ago.
with lots of bragging and lots of ridicule if you don’t know something that someone thinks everyone should know.
The mindset is that we’re all here to show how smart we are and how much better we are than everyone else. It’s
not a good environment for most people,” quotes Maria Klawe, President, Harvey Mudd College.5
With a rigid curriculum and a predefined path to graduation, too many students feel
disempowered and simply adapt to survive by learning to pass tests, not learning concepts or
developing meaningful skills.
The high dropout rates should be regarded as a failure of educators, and not of students. Even
for those who make it through, many suffer unnecessary stress and anxiety imposed by this
The result is that some of the best, most creative engineers – including many female students
feel alienated by this culture of competition and scoring. This doesn’t prepare them for the real
world of engineering and conversely it ‘weeds out’ some of the best talent out there.
4. Inadequate Partnerships with Schools and Employers
Figure 3. Representation of Partnerships with Schools and Employers
Too often there is a sense of complacency among universities, which often point to their
partnerships with industry as evidence of flourishing relationships between academia and business.
These institutional connections, while valuable in supporting research and development in
engineering, rarely trickle down to undergraduate students.
The first time a student visits a university will likely be when they are making their selection,
if at all. They have very little idea what they are buying at a time when they are making one of
the most important and consequential decisions of their young lives.
Unless they have a family member with an engineering degree they’ll embark on their degree
programme, one that will likely impact the course of the rest of their life, with almost no
knowledge of what lies ahead of them both academically and professionally.
Very few engineering graduates can be found teaching in secondary schools, and career advisers
will likely have only minimal understanding of the opportunities open to engineering graduates.
Without advocates within the school system, and without an A-Level or equivalent qualification
on offer in engineering, very few secondary school students will consider or be encouraged to
consider engineering unless they have a family connection or unless they fit the stereotypical
personality of a mathematics or physics ‘nerd’.
“If we see engineering education in terms of desirable engineering habits of mind as well as subject knowledge
and clearly articulate how best these can be taught; and if we offer teachers high-quality professional learning to
design new ways of teaching and working with engineers; then we can understand what schools need to do to ensure
more students have a high-quality school taste of what it is to be an engineer so that more choose to study engineering
beyond school and potentially become engineers,” says Bill Lucas, Director of the Centre for Real-World
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
An Engineering Renaissance
Careers fairs
School visits
Universities Employers
Section B: The Engineering Renaissance
Figure 4. Drivers and Enablers of Change in Engineering Education
The stars are aligned for radical change. This moment offers new opportunities for engineering
educators to rethink and redesign the learning experience to better serve the needs of students,
employers and the economy as a whole.
Drivers of Change
Students: As students begin to consider a university degree as an economic decision rather than
simply a rite of passage for the few, more and more young people will expect to see a return on
their investment by acquiring relevant skills and real-world experience during their undergraduate
Employers: As the IET Report demonstrates, employers are increasingly vocal in their
dissatisfaction with the current engineering education system. For some, this will translate into a
greater commitment to working in partnership with higher education institutions, while for others
it’ll mean creating their own training programmes for school leavers, or even establishing their
own universities to offer more options for budding engineers.
Enablers of Change
Technology: Numerous industries are facing the prospect of digital disruption, and higher
education in engineering is no different. This will enable many new entrants into the marketplace
offering online learning and blended models of online and face-to-face instruction, while at the
same time freeing up more universities to ‘flip’ their classrooms to focus more on ‘learning by
doing’ supplemented by digital content.
Deregulation: The UK’s new Higher Education and Research Bill (2017) offers the prospect of
a new generation of engineering schools to enter the marketplace offering more choice for
students, more variety in the sector and more opportunity for experimentation in delivering new
kinds of learning for engineers.
For a rebirth, or Renaissance, to take place in any part of society the underlying conditions
must be conducive to drive and enable change.
However, radical change doesn’t happen automatically. It takes a group of people with a
common cause come together to seize the moment to create new organizations, new models of
delivery, and new approaches within existing institutions.
Section C: What’s Needed
1. Relevant Content
The efforts to adjust the curriculum content to better meet the needs of students and employers
tend to be add-ons or complementary to the core theory that remains the focal point of the
learning experience - as the diagram (Figure 5) below displays.
Figure 5. Representation of Complementary Courses offered in Engineering Degrees
There is little purpose in adding an ethics course, and then assume that engineering graduates
can apply that learning to their decision-making. Similarly, you can’t simply add a class on
entrepreneurship and expect students to adopt this mindset unless this spirit runs throughout the
whole educational experience.
The “Capstone projects” at the very end of an engineering degree do not make engineering
graduates suddenly able to apply all the abstract theory they’ve been deluged with over the previous
three and a half years. Learning and practical applications should be integrated at every stage of
There’s also a danger by adding more and more courses in an effort to adapt to the needs of
employers of making engineering degrees too long and too overwhelming for students. When
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
An Engineering Renaissance
Employers Deregulation
practical or real world courses are added, theoretical ones are rarely subtracted.
The starting point for a redesign of the learning experience for students, and of the content
within that, is to focus on innovation and to build a curriculum around that concept rather seeking
to add to an already overloaded set of courses.
Figure 6. Design Innovation (adapted 4)
We must do more to integrate theory, practical application and context to every course. Rather
than add more courses, we can teach calculus through a community engagement project or explain
thermodynamics in the context of the global energy market. This isn’t just more engaging, it’s
generally a more effective way to teach concepts.
From this starting point (Figure 6), we can build a learning experience to prepare the
engineering graduates that employers seek and society needs.
However, this focus on innovation alone is insufficient. Engineers need to be more than simply
innovators. They need to understand the context in which they are operating and their
responsibility to the environment, natural resources and the people of this planet.
We live in an ever more complex, interconnected and interdependent world.
Whether it’s energy, transportation, infrastructure, urban redevelopment or any challenge we
face, we must increasingly view these through the prism of multiple lenses (see Figure 7).
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, a term coined by the World Economic Forum, promises to
bring even greater complexity to issues faced by engineers as we see the convergence of digital
technology with physical systems and biological processes. The rapid development of artificial
intelligence, hyper-connectivity, and widespread automation will give rise to new challenges where
engineers must act as leaders with empathy, not simply acting as implementers of technological
2. Collaborative Culture
Even if we can transform the content of the learning experience, without a shift in the culture,
we’ll not make the progress that’s desperately needed.
At the heart of the change that’s needed is a definitive shift away from measurement and testing.
This breeds a fear of failure, produces excessive stress and anxiety, and underpins a competitive
environment. We must build a culture of collaboration and move away from the obsession with
a constant assessment.
The first opportunity for a very different approach to measurement is the admissions process.
Currently, in the UK – as in Canada – the typical decision-making is made on the basis of grades.
Engineering Faculties and Schools rarely interview or ‘audition’ candidates, and admissions are
based on a limited set of data. To build a culture that values people, the best place to start is
admitting students based on who they are and not what they score.
The learning experience in engineering need not be a barrage of testing and measurement.
Organizations are increasingly seeking graduates with a collaborative approach, a learning
mindset, a confidence in communicating, and an ability to interact with a variety of people from
different backgrounds. Engineering schools tend to provide quite the opposite environment where
the emphasis is on the right answers to questions, rather than asking the right questions.
While there are attempts to integrate more teamwork and group projects in engineering
education, these rarely achieve their intentions unless there’s a shift away from the reflex to
measure. What’s required to build a culture of collaboration is a far-reaching re-design of the
system that moves away from both measurements.
The starting point for a more collaborative learning experience is to co-create it, rather than
impose it. With new schools, there’s an opportunity to develop courses and to design learning
experiences together with students and employers. With existing institutions, there’s the
opportunity to prototype one course together as a partnership between academics, students and
employers, and then roll this concept out more broadly. This helps to break down hierarchical
divides and develops a sense of shared ownership, that’s the basis for a collaborative culture.
Instead of a constant stream of testing, we can instead introduce a portfolio approach where
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
An Engineering Renaissance
Human needs
application &
intellectual property
Public policy &
Environmental &
societal impact
Figure 7. Representation of the Multiple Lenses of Engineering Innovation
to ourselves. When we introduce a new learning tool or a teaching model, we shouldn’t be
dismissive when results do not come overnight or where there are problems identified. We must
be more open about what’s gone wrong and seek to overcome the challenges, rather than
instinctively reverting back to the traditional methods at the first sign of difficulties.
We should experiment with different concepts and celebrate - not denigrate - those who push
the envelope and take a risk.
Most importantly of all, as engineering educators, we must place a higher value on teaching
throughout our institutions. That’s an easy thing to say and a much harder thing to do. Of course,
we all know that the academic system is set up in a way that places research at the forefront, and
often leaves teaching and teachers at the lower end of the totem pole. That’s not going to change
overnight yet we shouldn’t use it as an excuse for inaction or a reason to walk away from the scale
of the challenge.
If we frame the challenge as teaching versus research or the summit as being a time where
teaching considered as equally valuable in the academic milieu, then the scale of the challenge will
always be too daunting, and it’ll be too easy to get bogged down in failed expectations.
Instead, we should accept that we can introduce new incentives to place more emphasis on
teaching in the careers of academics and to elevate the value of teaching within academic
institutions without getting into a zero-sum game mentality where teaching is always in competition
students develop their own collection of projects over their education. Such a portfolio can then
be presented as the outcome of their time in engineering education rather than a spreadsheet of
test scores.
This diagram (Figure 8) below emphasizes the need for self-awareness and reflection
throughout the learning journey, moving away from the high-speed treadmill of engineering
school that exhausts students leaving them little time or opportunity to reflect on their progress
or consider where they wish to explore next.
Perhaps, most radically of all, we should place much more emphasis on making the engineering
education fun and fulfilling. Talk to a recent graduate in engineering, and while some will have
enjoyed parts of it, few will tell you it was an experience they look back on fondly as a time they
fell in love with engineering. For many, unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite. Those who studied
longer ago should resist the rose-tinted lens of memory and the temptation to impose the same
rite of passage on others.
Not every class can be joyful and not every assignment can be stimulating, yet there’s no need
to sacrifice rigour when we put more problem sets in context and focus less on competing, and
more on what we can achieve together. If we do more to make classes engaging and allow students
to discover new questions through practical challenges, we can create a more positive, optimistic
and happier environment that’s more conducive to learning and more inclusive for every type of
And there’s a silver lining. Happy students who enjoy their engineering education will be the
best ambassadors to share their experience with their friends, family and connections. This is far
more effective than any marketing campaign or advertisement. They’ll also make for engaged
alumni who want to stay part of the community with positive memories of their time and who
will act as roving advocates to reinforce a positive perception of the university.
3. Flipped Classroom
There’s lots of talk about pedagogical innovation, blended learning and flipped classroom
models within the education community. We can easily get lost in the various nomenclatures and
in disputes about what’s a passing fad and what’s not.
We should start by accepting that there’s no silver bullet or perfect teaching methodology. That
doesn’t mean we should just sit back and continue with the flawed lecture model, but it also means
we don’t need to put all our eg gs in one basket or impose a methodology across the system.
What’s key is to be willing and able to experiment and to work collaboratively to develop models
suited to a variety of different students who have different backgrounds, different mindsets and
different priorities. If we focus only on one approach, we risk limiting ourselves and limiting the
types of students who will consider engineering.
It’s clear that we need more ‘learn by doing’, more use of digital content and more
opportunities for students to get out of the classroom and apply their understanding to messy
real-world problems. What’s not clear is the best model or means to deliver that. It’s likely there
isn’t a perfect model out there and nor should we seek to just replicate the most innovative
Instead of replicating others, we should learn from the change makers in many different
contexts and then work together with students, with employers, and with our own community to
develop learning experiences that reflect our own identities and our priorities. What’s important
is that just as we want our students to be less fearful of failure, we should apply that same mindset
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
vAn Engineering Renaissance
Figure 8: Representation of Sinusoidal Learning Pathway
with research. Again, there’s a danger in seeking a solution that seeks to change the entire system,
and focus on making changes that are relevant and application to each different academic setting.
That will drive organic innovation, and move away from the battle between teaching and research
that promises to pit ourselves against one another rather than coming together to find different
approaches that avoid framing this challenge as a dichotomy.
The key principle that we deployed at the Lassonde School of Engineering in Canada was to
invest in people. This sounds obvious, and even trite, yet it’s too often neglected in this context.
Many universities invest substantial sums in new infrastructure and technology to drive teaching
improvements and ‘flipped classroom’ models. While these investments may aid the process, the
most powerful asset can be forgotten: the professor. We need to devote resources and time to
give faculty members the opportunity to develop and continuously improve their teaching skills.
We should give more freedom for the best teachers to spend more time teaching - and be
recognized accordingly and relieving those without a passion for teaching from their classroom
responsibilities to focus on research.
4. Integrated Partnerships
As noted above, there is much more to do to make the transition from school to higher
education to employment less of a maze and more of a runway.
We need to build more bridges. We need to break down walls. But that alone is not enough.
We need to cross those bridges and be willing to cross those divides (see Figure 9) to make them
more and more blurred, and less and less relevant.
While initiatives to increase outreach to schools are to be welcomed, we also need to bring
schools to us. We need students, parents, teachers and guidance counsellors to become familiar
with engineering education and to spend time in our home, as well as going to theirs.
While summer schools and open days are to be welcomed, we can go further and consider
much bolder ideas. Why not offer an “A-Level” equivalent or certificate in engineering to local
secondary school students taught on campus by professors? This could be recognized as a pathway
into engineering that means math and physics are not required. This won’t just make engineering
less mysterious, it’ll break down the mystique that surrounds academia and universities and can
intimidate those who don’t come from backgrounds where a degree is the norm.
While more efforts to bring employers and entrepreneurs on to campus are important, we also
need to spend more time going to them and understanding what they do and why they need a
different type of engineering graduate. There’s no point just contemplating this on an abstract
level at conferences and seminars. Just as students and schools should spend more time in our
homes (Engineering Faculties), we as educators must spend time in the homes (plants, offices,
facilities) of employers. Furthermore, we should resist thinking that initiatives like “Entrepreneurs
in Residence” or “Employer Roundtables,” although worthwhile, will truly address this divide.
We can give employers much more ‘skin in the game’ if we invite them to be part of selecting
students and in co-designing our curricula, rather than just inviting them to give talks.
We should build these bridges, but true success will be making these bridges unnecessary.
5. Co-Designing Diversity
Addressing this seemingly intractable challenge will not be straightforward or achieve immediate
results. We must start by recognizing that existing efforts have barely made a dent.
There should be a focus on looking inwards at the culture of engineering schools and whether
it offers an environment that supports, inspires and values women.
The reason this challenge is listed fifth on the list is that many of the approaches outlined
above - including a more relevant human-centered curriculum and a collaborative culture - will be
part of the shift that’s needed.
What’s needed most of all isn’t to reach out to more women or adapt the learning experience
that will attract more female applicants - although both are important. What’s needed is to bring
more women into engineering schools - even if they are not prospective students or engineers
themselves. Men need to work alongside women to redesign and co-create a different culture and
a different set of values. With a student body that’s over 80% male and with a faculty that’s even
more male dominated, it’s unlikely that the people inside engineering schools understand the
changes that are needed.
There are many women in industry, in business, in other parts of academia, and in many walks
of life who can work together with female engineering students and professors to work with men
to identify the changes - both tangible and intangible - that we will begin to make meaningful
New engineering schools cannot be complacent about this challenge either. Unless women are
involved in the development of every aspect of the organization and the learning experience, it’s
unlikely they will generate different results.
Section D: What’s Next?
Engineering educators should avoid the temptation to attempt quick fixes or respond reactively
to the growing calls for change.
This won’t be solved by opening a shiny new 3D printing lab or innovation space, or by adding
a new entrepreneurship course, or other similar gestures that have limited impact in addressing
the fundamental issues that need to be addressed as outlined in this paper.
At the same time, there’s a danger in overthinking this challenge and reaching for an all-
encompassing sector-wide solution. We must focus on actions, not just words.
What’s needed - we believe - is not a uniform model, but to allow this emerging Renaissance
in engineering education to flourish. We must give new entrants to the market and innovators
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
An Engineering Renaissance
Engineering certificate for local secondary school
students taught by university professors
both on and o campus
Employers co-design and co-deliver engineering
curriculum – and even be part of interviewing
prospective students
Universities Employers
Figure 9. Integrated Partnerships with Schools and Employers
1 Engineers Canada. Canadian Engineers for Tomorrow: Undergraduate student enrolment and degrees
awarded. Accessed on March 20, 2017.
2 Gibbs G. Times Higher Education: World Ranking Universities. ‘Lectures don’t work, but we
keep using them’. November 21, 2013.
3 Hutchins A. ‘Why don’t future engineers learn real-world skills in school?’ Maclean’s Magazine,
September 26, 2015.
4 IDEO. The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design. (2015)
5 Isaacson B. ‘Why Most of This College’s Engineering Students are Women’. July 31, 2014.
6 Issapour M, Sheppard K. Evolution of American Engineering Education. 2015 Conference for
Industry and Education Collaboration, American Society for Engineering Education. Palm
Springs, USA, Feb 4-6, 2015.
7 Kozinski J.A. ‘It’s Time To Increase Opportunities For Women in Engineering School’, The
Huffington Post, March 3, 2015.
8 Lucas B. ‘To produce more engineers, schools must focus on engineering habits of mind as
well as on STEAM subjects’, TES, April 3, 2017.
within existing institutions the freedom to experiment with bold ideas that seek to redesign the
experience, not just to tinker around the edges. We must value a wide variety of new ways of
educating engineers and be willing to embrace a system that offers more choice for students to
select different paths that fit their needs and reflect their ambitions, rather than imposing a one-
size-fits-all route to becoming an engineer.
We must be willing to learn with humility from our mistakes as well as our successes, and to
learn from others in engineering education throughout the world - as well as within the UK -
who are facing similar challenges. We need to learn from role models and develop bespoke
approaches relevant to each institution and the community it serves.
If we set our educators free to experiment, to prototype and to co-design new models with
others we can offer an experience that students will love and employers will value. We should all
adopt more of a beta-mindset where we accept that change is the norm and the same goes for
what we teach and how we teach. We should be less fearful of working with those who don’t
typically set foot on university campuses, and certainly not in engineering schools. We need to
work more with the local community, with underrepresented groups, and with students themselves
to design shared learning experiences. We should not ask them what they want and then seek to
deliver it. We should work together with our partners at every stage of the design process and
break down the barriers that still exist, whether real or imagined.
Above all, we must be willing to ‘grow the pie’ together. We need to introduce different models
of engineering education as we’ve outlined in this paper. Overall, we need to increase the numbers
of students who go into engineering as a whole. This is not a competition; it’s a shared challenge
that can benefit existing institutions as well as new entrants. We must share our successes - and
our failures, we should not be fearful of efforts by innovators to experiment, and we should move
away from the ‘arms race’ of comparative rankings that too often plagues academia to the
detriment of those we should serve: students, employers and our economy as a whole.
The stars are aligned for an Engineering Renaissance here in the UK and throughout the world.
We as educators need to seize this moment to work collaboratively with students and employers
to co-create a whole new set of models to reflect their needs. In doing so, we can turn a fear of
change and flux created by technology and disruption, into a new era of enlightenment for
engineering education.
Britain has always been the birthplace of invention and innovation in every industrial revolution
- from the steam engine, to the computer, to the internet. Now we must unleash engineering
educators in this country to shake up the status quo and rethink what it means to prepare an
engineer for a world where technology and people can work together to build a more sustainable,
more unified, and more hopeful society.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
An Engineering Renaissance
‘Engineering’ or ‘The Engineer’?
A paradox of professionalism
Robin Clark and Jane Andrews, Aston STEM Education Centre, Aston University
In considering the question How do we attract sufficient students into engineering to meet the needs of an
increasingly demanding society?’, this paper delves into what may be conceptualised as a somewhat
unspoken paradox faced by contemporary engineering education; the question of whether, in a
well-meaning attempt to encourage students to become professional engineers, we are losing sight
of the fact that engineering is by its very nature complex and multifaceted. This paper asks
whether, in the pursuance of the highly prized ‘Professional Body Accredited Status’ engineering
education has lost its way, prioritising ‘The Professional Engineer’ over the ‘Art, Science and
Practice of Engineering’.
The expectation that formal engineering education will provide young engineers with a broad
range of engineering related technical skills, knowhow and understanding represents a universal
driver, influencing curriculum development and pedagogic practice globally1. Yet despite years of
academic, professional body and government initiatives and debate2 3, the two subject areas where
students are most likely to either fail or simply quit their studies are Computer Science and
‘Engineering and Technology’, with attrition rates reported in the UK media at 11% and 8.3%
respectively[4]. The reasons behind such poor retention remain somewhat ambiguous, particularly
given the fact that both areas are attractive from an employability perspective, in that both report
high levels of skills shortages and difficulties in filling vacancies.
In seeking to identify the root cause of the problem, this short paper takes a critical look at
student and employer perspectives asking whether the much sought after ‘Professional Body
Accredited Status’ has resulted in a professionalised conceptualisation of engineering which is
somewhat removed from the realities of practice and which is unhelpful in developing engineering
talent for the current and future needs of the world.
As we move further into the 21st century, engineers are often looked upon as being ‘society’s
problem solvers’ and, as such, find themselves taxed with finding solutions to a range of global
and local challenges. These vary in nature from looking at ways of dealing with large-scale
international poverty to finding solutions for environmental issues including water shortages and
pollution5 6. Defining engineering as playing a vital link between science and society7, this paper
takes a positive perspective of what it means to be an engineer. In doing so it draws upon a number
of previous studies by the paper authors to provide a brief critique of the role of the professional
engineer within a forward thinking and sustainable ideology.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
Emergent Findings – Study Stage 1
The meta-analysis of previous work suggests that in order to meet the continually changing
demands of modern-day industry and contemporary society, successful engineers need to situate
themselves in the interchange between theory, practice and professionalism. The model below,
developed out of the emergent study findings, suggests how this may be achieved.
Figure 2: Features of an Professional Engineering Practitioner
1. Accredited Education: The role played by engineering education in developing a
professional practitioner should not be underestimated. This role varies in nature and
captures a range of full and part-time engineering programmes from relatively basic
technical training, through to apprenticeships, higher apprenticeships, technician training
and degree level education.
2. Practice Based Experience: The study findings thus far point to the value of practice-
based experience throughout an engineers’ career. Whilst at a university level such experience
is best gained by participation in a professional work placement, this is not the only route
for early career engineers. Other more practice based training programmes, including formal
apprenticeships and on-the-job training also have a role to play. Following graduation
experience is closely aligned to employment.
3. Core Transferable Skills: For universities one widely recognized issue relates to the need
to train engineers to solve problems which have yet to arise in industries that don’t yet exist.
This makes the need for core transferable skills to encapsulate more than hard engineering
competencies essential. These requirements include softer individual skills such as flexibility,
the ability to communicate across disciplines and at all levels, and a self-determined drive
for learning and professional development. Although for the most part common across
Conceptual Framework
The role played by engineers within industry and society needs to be a key driver in shaping
how young engineers are taught at university level. Despite this key fact, relationships between
the education sector and industry / employers are often ad hoc in nature, built on tenuous and
opportunistic working relationships in which differing professional viewpoints try to focus on a
common, yet poorly articulated goal. In an attempt to provide a more balanced perspective, the
two paper authors developed an approach to engineering education embedded within the
interchange between professionalism, practice and education. Figure 1 below depicts this
interchange providing a visual representation of the area of overlap in which employers, educators
and professional bodies must work together to provide a cohesive and relevant education.
Figure 1: The Engineer - A Professional Practitioner
Grounded in the expectation that engineering education will provide industry with work-ready
engineering graduates able to meet the challenges of the 21st Century8, a research study aimed at
analysing both employer and student perspectives was conducted. The first stage of the study
involved a meta-analysis of research conducted by the paper authors over the preceding five years
engaging with a range of employers. This analysis resulted in four distinctive areas for future work
being identified. These are explored in the next section.
The second phase of the study entailed the administration of a survey which aimed to examine
undergraduate perceptions of how engineering and applied science programmes prepare students
for employment. The findings from this part of the study are published in detail elsewhere but
referred to in this paper9 10.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
‘Engineering’ or ‘The Engineer’? A paradox of professionalism
The Engineer
Core transferable
Professional body
relationships based on recognized professional competencies is key to successful
engineering. Communication skills play a prominent part in the professional engineers’
portfolio, manifested by the ability to explain complicated theoretical concepts in everyday
practitioner based language. On a larger scale, the relationships between educators,
professional bodies and industries can at times seem somewhat strained. With different
industrial, professional and educational epistemologies placing what may appear to be
diametrically opposed expectations on young engineers as they graduate from university
and make the transition into work. Looking at engineering as a profession, it is clear that
there needs to be a single voice to speak across the various disciplines, promoting a positive
picture of engineering as a worthwhile and future-proof career. The UK does not have a
‘Chief Engineer’, hence there is no one person to develop professional relationships across
professional bodies and with government and policy makers. This in itself places engineering
at a disadvantage, making the need for positive relationships within the discipline itself of
dire importance.
2. Variety: Within the professional practitioner context of engineering, the concept of variety
reflects the range of different disciplines brought together under the wider “Engineering”
umbrella. The UK Engineering Council lists 70 different Engineering Professional Bodies14
each one of which has its own professional standards with relation to practice. Looking at
such a diverse range of professional indicators encapsulated by professional body
requirements, the question of how engineering educators can even begin to prepare future
engineers for the unknown rigours of future society when there is little agreement about
exactly what skills and competencies are required needs to be asked. Thus, in preparing
students to work in industries that have yet to be launched and solve problems that are not
yet created it is essential that engineering education produces highly flexible, well rounded
young engineers. To do this a range of innovative and academically valid pedagogic practices
need to be adopted. Variety in learning and teaching represents a key element of such
practice. Whilst the Professional Bodies and industry have a vital role to play in this, the
complexities of engineering pedagogic practice mean the primary responsibility for
curriculum development and delivery falls to the education sector. Yet educators should
not see themselves as the sole ‘guardians’ of engineering education. Variety in the classroom
needs to be translated across the curriculum, with innovative pedagogies including real-life
learning opportunities provided by industry and accredited by the professional bodies in
such a way that students are provided with the opportunity to gain global competencies.14
3. Synergy: The need for a synergetic approach to engineering education reaches far beyond
the classroom and laboratory to include pre-university education, students’ graduate
destinations (employers and graduate schools), the wider engineering sector and society as
a whole. Professional Bodies have a key role to play in the promotion of synergetic
education, setting key performance indicators for engineering education and providing
engineers with the means by which professional recognition may be used to show
internationally recognized standards and competencies in practice. Likewise, industry needs
to play its part, providing work-placements for students and inputting into the engineering
curriculum. Working together synergetically, educators, industry and professional bodies
can make sure that young engineers are equipped to deal with the challenges of the future.
sectors, there are differences and the need for review over time in order to remain current
and effective.
4. Professional Body Recognition: For the established engineer, professional body
membership incorporates both peer and professional recognition, providing a distinctive
status that is both meritorious and internationally distinguishable. Judged and affirmed by
professional peers, recognition at institute level (i.e. Chartered Engineer status) is not easy
to achieve and necessitates high levels of individual expertise, theoretical knowledge and
professional practice.
Figure 2 depicts the inter-related nature of each of the four features of the model, suggesting
that each feature contributes to the development of the other three in some way. This feedback
and feedforward is essential if engineering education is to develop in such a way as to ensure the
continued academic validity and professional relevance of what it means to be a professional
engineering practitioner.
Emergent Findings – Study Stage 2
An initial analysis of the study findings from the undergraduate survey has found that many
students are unprepared for the rigours of university level engineering education. The findings
of this stage of the study are discussed in greater length in other working papers9,10 and suggest
that most engineering students enter their programmes keen to become engineers with a desire
to make a difference to the society in which we live. Unprepared for the shift towards independent
learning, many young engineering students struggle with the almost contradictory nature of
professional engineering education. Whilst many indicate that they favour traditional ‘rote’ learning
there is also a leaning towards problem-based learning approaches11 12. This almost contradictory
finding gives an insight into the complexities of what it means to be an engineering professional,
whereupon there is a need to memorise and learn difficult theoretical concepts whilst also having
the ability to apply those concepts to a range of problems and issues.
The apparently diametrically opposed features of the professional engineer seems to have
resulted in a stalemate, with educational providers, the professional bodies and industry often at
odds with each other. In taking a wider perspective it is clear that there is a dire need for a paradigm
shift in how we educate engineers. Such a shift needs to bring together the various perspectives
so as to synergise professionalism, practice and performance. In short, engineering education
needs to be turned ‘on its head!’
The following paragraphs suggest how this might be achieved. Based upon the RVS model of
engineering education13 previously applied within engineering programmes, the key areas of
professional practice are addressed in such a way so as to promote successful engineering
education at all levels.
1. Relationships: Relationships within the professional practitioner context encapsulate high
level connectivity between and across individual engineers, educational institutions,
professional bodies and industry; beginning with the youngest engineering apprentices and
including senior engineers and engineering managers the ability to develop trusting
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
‘Engineering’ or ‘The Engineer’? A paradox of professionalism
1Lucena, J., Downey, G., Jesiek, B., Elber, S. (2008) ‘Competencies Beyond Countries: The
Reorganization of Engineering Education in the United States, Europe and Latin America’.
Journal of Engineering Education, 97(4), 433-447.
2DIUS (2008), A Vision for Science and Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, Department for
Innovation, Universities and Skills, London.
3Fidler, K., Harrison, M. (2013) Skills for the nation: engineering undergraduates in the UK, Royal
Academy of Engineering, London.
4The Telegraph (2017) ‘University subjects with the highest drop-out rate’, published on
degree-subjects-with-the-highest-dropout-rates.html?frame=2344255, accessed 19/1/17.
5IMechE (2009) Education for Engineering: IMechE Policy Summary, Institution of Mechanical
Engineers, London.
6Royal Academy of Engineering. (2008) Engineering, House of Commons Committee on
Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills, Royal Academy of Engineering, London
7Royal Academy of Engineering (2010) Engineering the Future: A Vision for the Future of UK
Engineering, Royal Academy of Engineering, London.
8van Barneveld, A., Ertmer, P. A. (2014) ‘Implementing problem-oriented pedagogies in
Engineering Education: Examination of tensions and drivers’, Educational Media and
Technology Yearbook, 47-67. Springer International Publishing.
9Andrews, J., Clark, R. (2017) ‘From Trailing & Failing to Learning & Progressing: A bespoke
approach to failure in engineering education’, to be presented at REEN Annual Symposium
(REES), Colombia, July 2017.
10 Clark, R., Andrews, J. (2017) ‘Great Expectations? A Comparative Analysis of Bachelor’s and
Graduate Students Expectations of University to Combat the Trauma of Transition’, to be
presented at ASEE Annual Conference, USA, June 2017.
11 Bédard, D., Lison, C., Dalle, D., Côté, D., Boutin, N. (2012) ‘Problem-based and project-
based learning in engineering and medicine: determinants of students’ engagement and
persistance’, Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 6(2), 8.
12 Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H.,
Wenderoth, M.P. (2014) ‘Active learning increases student performance in science,
engineering, and mathematics’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-
13 Clark, R., Andrews, J. (2014) ‘Relationships, variety and synergy: the vital ingredients for
scholarship in engineering education? A case study’, European Journal of Engineering Education,
39(6), 585-600.
14 Engineering Council UK (2017)
engineering-institutions, accessed 1/4/17.
15 Kusano, S. M., Johri, A. (2015) ‘Developing Global Engineering Competency Through
Participation in ‘Engineers Without Borders’’, Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference., accessed 1/4/17.
Using the RVS framework to conceptualise the importance of professional bodies, industry
and engineering educators working together, it is clear that no single entity is more important
than any other when it comes to developing new engineering talent. Engineering faculties often
prioritise the requirements of professional bodies over and above other demands. There are
numerous reasons for this but the key driver is, without a doubt, professional accreditation. Yet
the research briefly referred to in this discussion paper reveals that many young people are totally
unprepared for the rigours of a career in engineering when they enter university. Few understand
what professional bodies are and, worse still, many have little or no idea what engineering actually
is. Until professional bodies, industry and education begin to work together to promote
engineering and the role of the engineer in society, little will change.
In suggesting that engineering education needs to be turned ‘on its head’, we need to ask some
difficult questions. Is now the time to start thinking about ‘engineering’ rather than the ‘engineer’?
The multiplicity of talents that enable an engineering enterprise to develop and contribute to
industry and the wider society need to be acknowledged. The question is how can we do this? It
suggests the need for a broader, more flexible approach to engineering education in the first
instance. This should encapsulate choice to promote development along a multitude of pathways,
the aims being to be to enable the achievement of aspiration alongside the forming of talent that
can contribute to the engineering profession in some way.
Perhaps in its simplest form, building on the ideas captured in the ‘Habits of Mind’ work16
conducted for the Royal Academy of Engineering will provide a useful starting point. Focused
on school children, the freedom to explore is central to the arguments made by the report authors.
This has been reinforced in the recently published follow-up work ‘Learning to be an engineer.17
This freedom and flexibility in learning can seem almost eliminated by university level, as learning
is guided by numerous checklists of content, skills and competencies captured in learning
outcomes. Is this ‘fit for purpose’ or is change needed? Change will take time and it will require
different thinking on the part of educators, industry and professional bodies. It will require a
coherency of effort that embraces the idea of flexibility more so than ever before. As educators
and academics we need to start this challenging conversation.
This discussion paper starts off by asking whether too much attention is paid to professional
bodies. It looks briefly at a small research study before considering how a model of engineering
education may be applied to contemporary society.
In conclusion, there is clearly a need for better working relationships between professional
bodies, industry and educators. In Higher Education, the desire for professional accreditation
often trumps pedagogic and educational demands, meaning that at times priorities are changed
and learning outcomes become unclear. This clearly is not the way forward. Instead there needs
to be a mechanism through which different interests can be brought together to promote
professionalism and in doing so enable the UK to recruit, train and develop a new generation of
engineering talent able to move our society forward.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
‘Engineering’ or ‘The Engineer’? A paradox of professionalism
The formation of an engineer: A view on the
engineering curriculum
E. Tilley and J.E. Mitchell, UCL Engineering, University College London
The development of professional engineers is a joint endeavour involving schools, colleges
and universities and industry. Too often, these bodies have been siloed, influencing a single stage
of linear pipeline, rather than being seen as part of a continual process that provides support to
potential and professional engineers at all the different stages of their development. In redesigning
our education programmes, we considered this broader view and aimed to develop programmes
that connect with young people and practicing engineers outside of the traditional cohort. In this
paper, we touch on the review process that took place as part of the Integrated Engineering
Programme at UCL and give details of how we developed a strand of interconnected activities
that forms the backbone of the curriculum across all the engineering departments at UCL.
Engineering, as with all the creative arts, requires professionals with a range of skills, knowledge
and attributes. What these might be, has been discussed at great length with a procession of reports
calling for change in engineering education or levelling criticism at the current process for the
development of future engineers. Examples of the well-rehearsed arguments seen include
investigations of the ‘pipeline’ of school leavers into engineering study1and particularly the
difficulties faced by under-represented groups to enter engineering2, through to the skills developed
during university level education3. In addition, the Royal Academy of Engineering produced a
pair of reports which looked at the process of “Educating Engineers for the 21st Century” from
both the industry perspective4and the academic viewpoint5, highlighting both skills shortages and
skills gaps in the graduates being produced.
Similar reports and findings have occurred worldwide. In the US, for example, the National
Academy of Engineering6called for programmes with a “broader range of interdisciplinary
knowledge”, while in Australia similar calls have been made in the “Engineers for the Future”
report addressing the supply and quality of Australian engineering graduates for the 21st century,
published by the Australian Council of Engineering Deans in association with Engineers Australia7.
In some cases, these reports have acted as a call to arms for educators8whereas others have
highlighted the shortage of engineers and provided a case, predominantly to government, for
increased investment in the education and training of future engineers9 10.
A recurring theme is a desire for university engineering departments to produce graduates with
not only the technical skills of the disciplines, but also with a wider range of transferable skills,
an understanding of the societal context of Engineering and in particular an understand of how
to transfer these skills into industry. In the US, a significant voice for change in engineering
education has been held by Boeing11. While, in the UK, the latest IET skills survey gave a stark
16 Lucas, B., Hanson, J., Claxton, C. (2014) Think like an engineer: Implications for the education
system. Royal Academy of Engineering, London.
thinking-like-an-engineer-implications-full-report, accessed 28/2/17.
17 Lucas, B., Hanson, J., Bianchi, L., Chippindall, J. (2017) Learning to be an engineer: Implications
for schools. Royal Academy of Engineering, London.
learning-to-be-an-engineer, accessed 4/4/17.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
‘Engineering’ or ‘The Engineer’? A paradox of professionalism
Need for collaboration: Academia and Industry
Recently at a roundtable event hosted by the IET, leaders amongst the engineering schools
across the UK and senior members of Industrial partners, both corporate and enterprise, came
together to discuss if the current offering of engineering degree programmes was properly
servicing the industry’s needs. The main topic of discussion tiptoed around whether or not a
wholly interdisciplinary degree that breaks down boundaries between specialist departments and
employs the very latest methods in achieving stretching educational outcomes was desirable.
However, the conversation tended to lean towards addressing the roles both the HE institutions
and industry employers play in contributing to and supporting a graduate’s transition between
academic study and industry practice. What wasn’t discussed but perhaps should be the hot topic
of discussion between academia and industry, is the question we pose here “how can the two
contribute to and support graduate engineer’s life-long learning?”
The MEng or integrated master of engineering science programme, currently offered and
accredited across the UK, is recognised as being the basic training required by the Engineering
Chartership application process. Following from that, Chartership is only possible once substantial
experience is gained and competence is demonstrated. After a student graduates from such a
programme, there cannot be the expectation of a fully formed engineer. The only expectation
should be that the students have the capacity to further develop in their own professional skills
and their understanding of the world of practice, in addition to the areas of engineering thinking,
design, analysis and implementation. Education prepares pupils for a life-long career in learning,
not just graduation. What is needed is a formal and continuous University-Industry partnership
aimed at fostering the future development of graduates as life-long learners, which is driven by
creating and supporting relevant and beneficial interactions for all involved.
Currently, much of the emphasis placed by employers during graduate recruitment and graduate
training schemes is getting new recruits ready to be integrated into the company, the industry
sector and their new working teams. In turn this puts pressure on academic institutions to assist
in this endeavor with the aim of improving graduate outcomes and employment statistics. These
efforts are often focused on getting the most out of the graduate’s first year or two at a company
which, as evidenced by the IET report16, is for many, their first industry work experience. Indeed
the years spend after graduation are largely formative, but arguably, it is the years after which will
have them making significant contributions to society and creating the most impact. This shouldn’t
be left up to the industry sector alone. Working partnerships between Universities and Industry,
both established and emerging, could support the formation of a life journey via an engineer’s
daily practice and throughout their career.
Some obvious ways in which this could take form are via alumni/mentoring programmes, CPD
opportunities and internships and/or hiring programmes. Beyond those, there could be ways to
put into practice a ‘pay-it forward’ initiative, aimed at informing future cohorts within a range of
levels, of the changes in the workplace and industry practices as well as continuous learning
opportunities. This could help break down the barriers between the two bodies which are currently
focused on the hand-off which occurs after graduation.
There is deeper concern than in previous years around the skills, knowledge and experience of the future
workforce postgraduates, graduates, school leavers and apprentices. One of the biggest challenges
appears to be in recruiting candidates with sufficient work experience. Many employers are reporting
that the content of engineering and technology degrees does not suit the needs of their organisation because
the courses don’t develop practical skills or practical work experience.
IET Skill and Demand in Industry6
The call for change seems clear, but what change is required? The Royal Academy of
Engineering5summed the end goal up as: “University engineering courses must provide students
with the range of knowledge and innovative problem-solving skills to work effectively in industry
as well as motivating students to become engineers on graduation.”
University’s role in developing the Professional Engineer
It is generally accepted that university programmes do a pretty good job at imparting
knowledge. Skills can be a bit more tricky, while the develop of the attitudes and attributes that
industry say they require are the most difficult of all. However, we must also remember that it is
not solely the responsibility of higher education institutions to form professional engineers but
a joint responsibility of both academia and industry, and a process that should, ideally, be tackled
collaboratively and with a timeframe that reflects the trajectory of a graduate engineers career.
We suggest that fostering this collaboration is an important conversation, one that has not been
fully engaged in thus far, but one that bodies such as the Institute of Engineering and Technology
(IET) are exceptionally well placed to facilitate.
We should remember that graduating with an engineering degree is much like passing a driving
test. It is not a recognition that the successful individual is an expert driver, but merely that they
have reached a sufficient level of competence that allows for the next stage of their development
and practice to can be undertaken without strict supervision. Mirroring this, it is vital that we
move away from demands for ‘oven-ready’ graduates and the provision of narrowly focused
degree courses, and uphold education as mind-expansion, not training. Together, universities and
employers need to embark in a constructive dialog as to what the shared roles and responsibilities
are in the formation of professional engineers. Such a collaborative approach is required if we
are to attract and keep talented young-people from the broadest range of backgrounds and gender
in the profession.
As part of this development, it is the responsibility of the engineering academy and engineering
educators to review and analyse the requirements of becoming a professional engineer and adapt
their curriculum accordingly. We argue that this is not something that can be done piecemeal, or
by one-off, separate or extra-curricula activities, but something of significance that is explicitly
embedded into the core curriculum. This does not mean that complete revision is required. It
does, however, mean that the whole curriculum must be considered as part of a fundamental
review of how each element contributes to the formation of a professional engineer. It should
also be the case that we are willing to identify elements that are not best delivered as part of a
university programme and that would be better learnt ‘on the job’, within an apprenticeship, as
part of an internship or placement, or after graduation as part of a graduate training scheme.
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
The formation of an engineer: A view on the engineering cur riculum
traditional and non-tradition to the disciplines offered at UCL.
You may find that the majority of your students will find future employment aligned with their ‘minor’
rather than their chosen field of engineering”
Sinisa Stankovic, Rapiere Software Ltd. (2017)
It is recognised, by all associated with the IEP, that authentic learning (including PBL), enquiry-
based learning and skills-based learning are all suitable, and often successful, ways of providing
students opportunities within the curriculum to develop practical skills. Equally, however, it is
acknowledged by many that these can only go so far. Direct industry engagement and work
experience is arguably the best approach and the IEP is actively aiming to further advance our
curriculum and industry based services to bring opportunities for interaction to the fore.
Investigation into how best to position work-placements so that all IEP students graduate with
work experience are ongoing. We are also exploring how we can work with our graduate employers
to improve their graduate training programmes to align with skills-based pedagogies and
developmental activities of the IEP. At UCL Engineering, a team of staff designated to student
careers and employability currently sit at faculty level with academic staff appointed within
departments to lead efforts in career guidance, internships and student recruitment. These are
often the people who do the most to bring industry onto the campus and supporting the students
within the curriculum. There is a common strategy amongst all to increase the amount of
interaction and influence on the students while they are visiting. This often takes to the form of
paired engagement activities like talks on CV writing, assessment centre support or work-place
culture with assessment of project work or presentations. A concerted effort towards the
development of key relationships with new alumni is also a new strategy for the IEP which is
hoped to help pay-it-forward and inform students throughout the IEP of employer expectations
of graduate employees, but also provide information on the level of support available to develop
individual capacity for becoming a professional engineer
In this paper, we have outlined our vision for a new model of engineering education that
balances the traditional demands for a broad, discipline-based education with the integration of
professional engineering skills. We argue that the formation of a professional engineer is a joint
endeavour between academia and industry which requires continued collaboration and
cooperation, throughout the degree programme and through into the work-place. To effectively
do this, the degree level curriculum of engineering programmes needs to be overhauled, so that
room is made for authentic learning experiences that allow students to integrate their academic
learning with relevant practice in collaboration with industry.
As an example of how this might be done, we share our experience of developing the
Integration Engineering Programme (IEP), a framework that is shared across all engineering
programmes at UCL which aims to integrate theory and practice lead activities with research-
based and industry-led opportunities. Although, with regards to industry interaction, this
programme is still a work in progress, we believe that the framework provides a range of
opportunities for direct industry interaction which can be exploited in the coming years to provide
a fundamental shift in the experience received by our graduates.
Progress so far: The Integrated Engineering Programme
The Integrated Engineering Programme at UCL, better known as the IEP, is not a distinct
programme so much as it is a teaching philosophy. Its key aim, is to give students across the
faculty, regardless within which discipline they’ve been inducted, an abundance of opportunities
to put into practice their core technical knowledge and develop their own ‘transferable’ skill sets.
Authentic and research-based learning practices have been embedded in each of the departmental
BEng and MEng degree offerings. It makes use of active learning techniques, such as problem-
based learning, which are rich in real-world context and complexity, to consider such things as
stakeholder needs, design, ethics, risk, environment, costs, timelines, estimation and decision
making. Those dedicated to IEP teaching, make considerable efforts to create authentic
assessments which reflect work commonly expected of graduate employees and/or are set out
and assessed by Industry partners. Additional elements of the IEP including: an applied teaching
and learning approach of fundamental mathematics for engineers; curriculum dedicated to skills-
based teaching and learning; and an effort to support the student’s own self-awareness of personal
strengths, weaknesses, values, own working and leadership styles etc., all have aims to facilitate
each student in their individual learning journey towards graduation and beyond.
The IEP created time and space in the curriculum for students from all departments within
the Faculty to participate in nine distinct, diverse and technically challenging projects before the
third year of their chosen programme. Whether classified as a Challenge or a Scenario13, each
project provides students with an opportunity to consider a new set of stakeholders whilst
working: with a new academic lead and often industrial client(s)/advisor(s), amongst a new student
team, towards a new timeline with new deadlines, within new learning environments and to submit
or present new project deliverables. Evaluation reports from the ninth and final two-week
intensive, inter-disciplinary project called How to Change the World, which has student teams
tackle socially driven ‘wicked’ problems (, have
highlighted the ability of students on the IEP to pull their team together and start projects off
proficiently and resourcefully. This, partnered with new remarks by academic leads and external
third party partners, that student solutions provided at the end of the two weeks have also been
improving in terms of technical feasibility, social desirability and costing considerations, are just
a few observations which suggest that elements of the IEP can help students translate their
engineering education into the day-to-day work of engineering.
Another distinction of the IEP is the embedding of a ‘Minor’ within the departmental
BEng/MEng degree programmes. Much like a pedagogic framework often associated with North
American undergraduate degree programmes, the IEP Minor comprises one-eighth of the second
year and one-quarter of the year three studies for all students within the IEP. The aim of the IEP
Minor is to offer the students an opportunity to dedicate their elective/optional modules and
enable in-depth of study in an associate area which is either linked to industry sectors (i.e.
nanotechnology, sustainable building design or crime & security engineering etc.) or is skills based
(i.e. programming, management or foreign languages etc.). An additional founding principle of
the IEP Minor is that it must be offered to students from more than one discipline, thus making
it interdisciplinary in nature. Recently, an event was held bringing together industrial partners and
graduate employers with IEP students to discuss the career pathways aligned with their chosen
IEP Minors. A comment after the event from one of the attending industrial partners reflected
an intention set out by the IEP, which was to align curriculum with industry sectors both
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
The formation of an engineer: A view on the engineering cur riculum
AIMLED – A new approach to engineering higher
Karen Usher and David Sheppard, NMiTE
The UK needs more good engineers – qualified at all levels. By the 2020’s, at least a doubling
of HE graduate engineers is required for sustainable economic growth.
Despite huge effort in promoting engineering in schools over many years – (the RAEng reports
over 600 current initiatives1), no significant increase has resulted in the relative popularity of
engineering overall in HE applications. Why is this?
First, there is evidence that problems lie in the perceptions of engineering held by the public
– perceptions of manual, trade, low status activities that are reinforced by the media, and those in
Whitehall and Westminster. Such perceptions are inaccurate and ill-conceived, yet will be in the
minds of many parents, families and teachers of young people, greatly influencing career choice.
Next, youngsters are put off engineering degrees because they believe they are simply ‘more
maths, more science’ – which they often are, presenting curricula incorrectly stressing engineering
as applied science. Also A/Level Physics and Maths (two subjects traditionally required for entry
to UK University Engineering programmes) struggle to increase numbers. Most recently, c30,000
students annually presented Physics and Maths A/Levels, (a number set to reduce severely,
reflecting demographic decline). With c23,000 UK students entering engineering courses, clearly
insufficient headroom exists for a doubling of graduates, given other academic subjects’ demand
for this A/L combination.
The problem is particularly acute in the case of female students, who represented 55.6%2of
all HE accepted students in 2014/15, yet just 15.1% of those studying engineering. This is despite
the initiatives of WISE (Women in Science & Engineering), and the Women’s Engineering Society
(WES). Here, perceptions weigh more heavily than with male students, and the fact that a
significant proportion of Girls’ schools do not teach Physics at A/L is a further barrier to
considering studying engineering.
Another problem relates to the quality of students recruited to engineering HE programmes.
An RAEng3study showed that whilst pre-1992 universities are mostly full with well-qualified
entrants (obtaining up to 600 tariff points), post-1992 institutions mostly attract students towards
the bottom of the qualifications spectrum, achieving their target admissions through Clearing.
Inevitably this leads to high withdrawal rates amongst low-achieving entrants.
The problem facing the quest for increasing the number of graduate level engineers in the UK
thus appears to be intractable – not enough quality school children are taking A/L Physics and
Maths, and seem unable to respond (possibly through problems of engineering perceptions) to
outreach and intervention activities.
The waters are muddied by facts emerging from a 2015 Oxford University report4. Despite
employers’ claims that there are insufficient graduate engineers entering the employment market,
the evidence is that the fraction of graduates from particular engineering disciplines entering their
1Perkins J. (2013), Professor John Perkins’ Review of Engineering Skills, UK Department of
Business Innovation and Skills
2Macdonald A. (2014), ‘Not for people like me?’ Under-represented groups in science, technology and
engineering, A summary of the evidence: the facts, the fiction and what we should do next. WISE: A
campaign to promote women in science, technology and engineering
3Engineering the Future (2014), The Universe of Engineering: A Call to Action available from:, last accessed 9th
August 2016
4Spinks, N., Silburn, N., and Birchall, D., (2006), Educating Engineers for the 21st Century: The
Industry View, Henley Management College for The Royal Academy of Engineering
5Royal Academy of Engineering, RAEng. (2007), Educating Engineers for the 21st Century, Royal
Academy of Engineering
6National Academy of Engineering (2004), The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the
New Century, National Academy of Engineering, USA
7King, R. (2008), Engineers for the Future: addressing the supply and quality of Australian engineering
graduates for the 21st century, Australian Council of Engineering Deans (ACED)
8CBI (2009), Future fit: Preparing graduates for the world of work, CBI and Universities UK
9Royal Academy of Engineering, RAEng. (2012), Jobs and growth: the importance of engineering
skills to the UK economy, Royal Academy of Engineering econometrics of engineering skills
project Final Report
10 Dyson J. (2010), Ingenious Britain: Making the UK the leading high tech exporter in Europe. A report
by James Dyson
11 McMasters, J.H., (2004), ‘Influencing Engineering Education: One (Aerospace) Industry
Perspective’, International Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 20, no. 3, pp353–371
12 Institution of Engineering and Technology, IET. (2016), Engineering and Technology Skills and
Demand in Industry: Overview of issues and trends from 2016 survey, Institution of Engineering and
13 Bains, S., Mitchell, J.E, Nyamapfene, A., and Tilley, E., (2015), ‘Work in progress: Multi-
disciplinary curriculum review of engineering education’, UCL’s integrated engineering
programme, IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), pp.844-846,
18-20 March 2015
New Approaches to Engineering in Higher Education
The formation of an engineer: A view on the engineering cur riculum
Innovation is a process that calls upon a wide variety of subjects beyond science and
mathematics. This includes finance, economics, management, quality, IT, languages, rhetoric,
marketing, sociology, ethics, art, facilities, human resources – and in particular, Design.
All these subjects (and more) contribute to Innovation, a truly eclectic mix. The AIMLED
programme will make these subjects more visible than conventional approaches, and so
will appeal to students with a wider range of backgrounds and experiences. This will
achieve a ‘Liberal Engineering’ programme which is ‘liberated’ from the strictures and narrow confines
of science and mathematics.
Of particular significance is Design defined by Sir George Cox8, (past Design Council
Chairman) in his 2006 report as: “…what links Creativity and Innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical
and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.
Design goes beyond the ‘look’ of something (its ‘form’). In the context of engineering, Design
covers design for form, function, manufacture, operation, reliability, maintenance, and for disposal.
Importantly, design is not ‘Applied Art’, but is a rigorous discipline with its own defined
So we have the blessed trinity - Creativity, Design and Innovation – the distilled quintessence
of Engineering. Yet few HE engineering courses recognise this, instead concentrating on (as
described in the US) ‘the mind-numbing math-science death march that casts aside thousands of capable young
people who might otherwise have made effective engineers’. NMiTE’s AIMLED programme will deal with
this through new approaches to curriculum structure and delivery that treats engineering education
not as acquisition of a body of knowledge, but as engagement in the Process of Engineering,
based on Creativity – Design – Innovation.
The flagship ‘exemplifying’ qualification for the Engineering Council’s UK-SPEC Standard is
the MEng. This degree provides the required ‘educational base’ for formation of Chartered
Engineers (CEng). The MEng is an integrated undergraduate Masters level engineering
qualification – integrated in that it subsumes a Bachelors level qualification, yet has undergraduate
status permitting student loan access.
Under QAA’s (Quality Assurance Agency) Course Credit Accumulation and Transfer scheme
(CATS), an MEng carries 480 credits, representing 4,800 hours study time. Conventionally these
are presented over four academic years, each comprising thirty weeks of 40 study hours. The
AIMLED programme presents the degree over three years of 1,600 study hours each, requiring
forty 40-hour weeks/year. With inter-block (qv) breaks this will require 46 weeks students’
commitment, the remainder of the year being vacation. This accelerated approach brings several
advantages - graduates enter employment one year early; accommodation arrangements are simpler
and cheaper; longer periods are available for learning and industrial experience (e.g. a third year
c20-week industrial placement/internship); and without long vacations, educational momentum
is maintained. A 46 week year would allow students to immerse themselves fully in the city,
University and, most importantly, in Engineering.
The AIMLED programme
The AIMLED programme material will be presented through four principal themes: Feeding
the World; Shaping the Future; Living in Harmony; and A Healthy Planet. Aligning with regional and
national employment opportunities, these themes also address current global challenges, which
will appeal to prospective students.
corresponding industry sector (particularly within manufacturing) is generally <50%, (in some
cases, <10%), challenging arguments suggesting substantial shortages of engineering graduates.
This apparent contradiction – the need for a doubling of engineering graduates, yet evidence
of lack of employment of existing graduates, is worthy of examination. Amongst possible answers
(perhaps cherry-picking by employers, who only choose those with first-class degrees), there are
two other important possibilities. Having endured their undergraduate programme, some
graduates are put off engineering, seeking employment elsewhere. Somehow the programme did
not satisfy what they believed to be an engineering education. Also employers find the skills and
attributes offered by students do not represent those expected of a graduate engineer5– in other
words, the HE degree programme was somehow lacking.
In recent times many people, organisations, and institutions worldwide have been drawn
inexorably to the conclusion that something is wrong with engineering higher education, and are
doing something about it6.
NMiTE is one such institution, currently developing an Accelerated Integrated Masters Liberal
Engineering Degree (AIMLED) to correct the situation.
AIMLED results from disruptive interventions to create a new style of engineering programme
design, drawing inspiration from worldwide developments that seek to provide more appropriate
21st century approaches to engineering higher education.
Traditional engineering courses build upon bedrock of science and mathematics, viewed as
part of a ‘continuum’ leading into engineering topics. Indeed, engineering degree courses are
often presented as ‘applied science’ – that ‘turn science and maths into reality’. This is far from
the reality of the relationship.
Science is about achieving understanding of our world by producing models of obser ved
behaviour, which are used to predict behaviours of other possibly more complex phenomena
(the ‘Scientific Method’). Mathematics has an important role in this modelling activity.
Science is about analysis. Engineering, however, is about synthesis. It is about creating things
- products that address and solve the problems, challenges or needs of society. Seldom do these
products arise from new scientific and mathematical developments (although there are exceptions);
in fact, many scientific and mathematical developments follow engineering creativity. Thus, the
science of Thermodynamics came after the creation of early steam engines; the science of
Aerodynamics mostly followed the Wright brother’s empirical work on practical flying machines.
The ‘continuum’ between science and mathematics to Engineering is in fact in the reverse
direction since engineering creativity often gives rise to developments in science and mathematics.
Progress in semiconductor physics (for microchips) and development of the mathematical Fast
Fourier Transform used in signal processing are particular examples.
Despite this, many traditional engineering courses are arranged around a ‘linear curriculum’
that first teaches science and mathematics and then moves to engineering. Analysis dominates in
this approach, usually at the expense of one most important example of the essence of
engineering - Creativity