Engineering a brighter future for the UK

The forthcoming New Model in Technology & Engineering is set to help education get the radical overhaul it urgently requires, says Prof David Allan

Technology is fundamentally reshaping the way we live and work and the UK must start producing more – and more diverse – engineering graduates if it is to keep up with the pace of change enveloping the world.

It is no secret that the UK has a shortage of trained engineers. Engineering UK claims a further 1.8 million new engineers and technicians are needed by 2025 if we are going to keep up with demand.

We must change how we recruit young students into the profession to attract a much broader range of candidates, in particular women. After all, if the world is designed by just half of the population, how can it be user-friendly for everyone?

In September 2019, the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMiTE) is due to open its doors to students. We plan to tear up the rule book on how undergraduate engineers are trained in the UK, implementing a revolutionary curriculum that will deal with real world rather than theoretical problems.

The new university is developing a learning programme that will prepare interdisciplinary engineers for a world in which technology is changing who we are. This world will also need people who are not just great engineers but also create collaboratively, consider the consequences, and communicate complexity lucidly.

Our engineers will be equipped for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and merge the physical, digital and biological worlds; a world that will require engineers to be more human than ever.

NMiTE is adopting a radical approach to recruiting undergraduates, and we are looking for engineering companies to get involved, to work with us to shape our curriculum, to hire our students, and to let us work on your engineering challenges.

We are taking the radical but necessary step of removing the prerequisite demand for maths or physics A Level from future applicants. It is our strong belief that the strict entry requirements have been the biggest challenge for young people wanting to take up a career in engineering.

“We are making a statement that the engineering profession is open for business to everyone with the intellect and determination.”

By dropping the A Level barrier we are not lowering standards, but driving them up. Most young people decide their A Level subjects based on what they have learned at school, instead of considering their future career choices. They are encouraged to do just that by an education system that rewards high grades rather than learning and understanding.

The result is that we are automatically barring a whole section of young people from considering an engineering career, regardless of how suitable they might be.

The figures speak for themselves: Engineering UK’s Brand Monitor (EBM) survey found that while more than 59% of 11-14 year olds would consider a career in engineering, by the age of 19 that number fell to 39%.

Despite repeated attempts to encourage more girls to take up STEM A Level subjects, it is still the preferred choice for boys. The latest round of A Level results showed the number of girls taking A-Level maths (8.6 per cent) remains low compared with the number of boys (16.2 per cent).

Engineering UK asserts that girls are deterred from an engineering career because of a lack of understanding in the subject. They are, it says, not only less knowledgeable about engineering and how to become an engineer, but also less likely to seek careers advice from others.

Engineering urgently needs an image change if it is going to succeed in attracting more women. For too long the sector has been associated with oily mechanics, rather than cutting edge problem solvers.

“We must attract a much broader range of candidates, in particular women. After all, if the world is designed by just half of the population, how can it be user-friendly for everyone?”

It is time for a new approach.

We are getting rid of old education doctrines and implementing a programme of learning that is not based on lectures, textbooks, and exams.

The new NMiTE curriculum will focus on liberal engineering, where the subject will be learned in the context of one or more of the NMiTE themes: Feeding the World; Shaping the Future; Living in Harmony; and A Healthy Planet. Each of these embraces several of the great humanitarian challenges of the 21st century and requires dedicated engineering to address its problems.

We are looking for creative and inquisitive minds. Knowing engineering and having a strong technical knowledge does not make an engineer – being an engineer is more a state of mind, and an approach to life. We want people who can solve a problem that they have never seen before.

Being an engineer doesn’t mean knowing everything, it means knowing how to access the resources and the people who will come together to find the solution.

This is where NMiTE is focusing its efforts – we want our graduates to be lifelong learners. The programme is designed to give learners the strategies they need to keep up with the rate of change happening around them. Such is the rapid state of change in our sector that, by the time students graduate, something they learned at the start of course may well be out of date.

Working with our partner, America’s innovative Olin College of Engineering, which has a 50:50 male to female student and faculty balance, we want to change engineering education forever.

In doing so we are making a statement that the engineering profession is open for business to everyone with the intellect and determination.

If you are interested in learning more about NmiTE, and how we are building a curriculum that inspires undergraduates and works directly with employers, then please get in touch: