OPINION: Universities need to make engineering a priority
UK universities don’t see it as their responsibility to create engineers – that’s down to industry. So says a recent article on the Guardian website. Ken Christie, UK Director of EPLAN, believes that this attitude undermines the country’s future prosperity and calls for urgent change.
There’s no doubt that Britain needs engineers – their work provides the essential foundation for major projects like Crossrail that are driving this country’s increasing prosperity. Yet, as the Guardian item makes clear, when engineering graduates take up their roles in industry they are all too often found to be 'not fit for purpose'.
This is no reflection on the graduates themselves. The problem lies with the education they’ve received at university, which is invariably focussed on general scientific and mathematical topics. Such topics are, of course, an essential part of an engineer’s education but, in that statement, the words 'part of' are crucial. These topics alone are not enough – graduates need to understand and have experience of the practical problems and techniques that relate to real-world engineering.
I wholeheartedly agree with the Guardian writer that the solution lies in allowing industrial organisations to become more involved with engineering degree courses. Surely those who will employ the graduates these courses produce should have a say in how they are educated? And surely students, who are now paying up to £40,000 for a four-year degree course, deserve to benefit from the insight that can only be provided by engineers who have practical experience of major projects?
While it is, I believe, imperative that we should make this radical change in approach, it would be folly to suggest that it could be implemented overnight. There are, however, positive actions that can be taken very quickly. One of these is for universities to start teaching their students with the design software they will be using when they graduate, rather than clinging to out-dated products and techniques.
Engineering underpins virtually every aspect of our lives. If, therefore, this country is to have a successful and prosperous future, we need our universities to turn out graduates with practical insight and experience that matches the roles they will take on. Achieving this will take time and involve radical change, but there are crucial first steps that can be taken today. We must not delay - for future prosperity, we need skilled engineers and we need them sooner rather than later!
Mindful of the need for universities and industry to cooperate to offer more relevant training and education for future engineers, EPLAN is currently offering classroom licences completely free-of charge for its full range of widely used CAE software.
The licences cover EPLAN Electric P8, EPLAN Fluid, EPLAN ProPanel and EPLAN Pre-Planning, which between them give users all the tools they need to design complete functional systems. EPLAN supports the licences with on-site installation and a five-day training course for lecturers, complemented by an extensive range of lecture plans and training material.
Students also get access to the EPLAN web-based data portal, which holds detailed information about close to half-a-million products from 66 leading manufacturers.