We continue to examine the approaches to the organization of engineering education used in different countries. Today we are going to talk about England. Our interlocutor is Ezendu Ariwa, a Professor at London University of Bedfordshire.
- Ezendu, tell us please, how are things with education
in engineering in the UK?
Engineering requires the development of a professional capacity and practice is of fundamental importance here. It is not enough just to read the books - you need experience and good coaching. As in many other countries, we have a problem with the cessation of vocational training, though it is necessary for the dissemination of technical knowledge. In order to get good engineers, we need to have all three education levels: technical college, polytechnic, and university. But since this model is out of date, we are developing greater cooperation with companies.
- How is this cooperation organized?
There are several options for cooperation in which young people can combine study with work. They can work two or three days a week in an engineering company and spend one or two days a week at university. This is the first model. The second model is as follows: students attend university for one year and then work for the company for one year. The third model is 50/50: half of the time is devoted to study, half of it is devoted to working during the same period of time.
Also there is a specifically designed form of cooperation and a special affiliate program which is called Partnership which is for the transfer of knowledge. This is a state initiative. The company employs a student to work on a project; he gets paid for his work. If the project is small, the company pays 45% and the remaining 55% is compensated by the state. In case of larger projects the company has to pay 55%, and the state 45%.
Under this program students can be granted leave on a sabbatical: reserving their place at the university they can still work for a company for one or two years. Similarly, an employee of a company has the right to take a sabbatical and study at university for a period of time.
- Are the joint projects of a university and a company real?
Yes, they are. I myself led a number of such projects. For example, we have developed an eco-friendly motor yacht for a Swiss company, which had low levels of CO2 emissions. It was a technical project. Business projects are the second common type. We had a project with a company engaged in photocopiers. We had to optimize their working practices as well as a system of cash flow. Having participated in such a project students can gain knowledge in the field of financial affairs.
- How does the selection process of students for participation in the projects take place?
We tell the students about the project, assess their skills, and choose those students that best suit us. You cannot participate in the project unless you have studied for four years. Such projects help in preparation for obtaining a master's degree and help the students to find a direction in which they want to develop further. At the end of the work, students are better qualified and the company has a new product. Thanks to this the company acquires certified specialists and the university can be proud of them.
- Will the company have intellectual property rights?
Yes, the product is considered as intellectual property of the company, not the university. The company may start production and make a profit. The university helps the company with product certification.
- Do the universities send their teachers to work in the companies?
Universities should ‘share’ their staff with other organizations. Any teacher has the right to work outside the university for a year, either in a business corporation or on a research project. That is their right. It all depends on his or her interest.
I myself work as a consultant in several engineering companies in India and the UK, specializing in information technology in the field of health care, give various tips for engineering and technology policy.
- What is the general trend: does the youth of today choose engineering as a profession as readily as it did, for example, 20 years ago?
Today’s boys and girls are different from young people in the past who literally dreamed of becoming engineers. Today there are many more distractions than ever before. Youth-based interest in what I would call ‘traditional engineering’ is quite low. However global computerization contributes to young people’s interest in applied engineering more than before.
Students' interest in engineering depends on how we teach them, how we motivate them, how we instill an idea of the importance of the engineering profession. Some young people want to become engineers, but have no idea what it is. Young people need to be inspired and given guidance not only in the engineering profession, but also in all other professions - accountancy, banking, medicine. We should try to instill an interest in the engineering profession in high school.
The model for engineering education and youth encouragement needs to be improved. For example, young people need to see that companies are interested in their engineering education. Such interest can be shown, for example, by allocating small grants. Then, many students will be able to combine work with study; they will have a good level of motivation that will positively affect the outcome.
It happens that students having already chosen their profession then change their preferences while studying. For example, say you are studying management, and after a few years you understand that you have a greater propensity for more technical professions. We can then teach you thanks to the so-called ‘retraining programs’. Universities cooperate with professional organizations to be able to implement similar programs. If someone is studying mathematics and then turns to us to teach them engineering, we can offer them a one year master's retraining program, after which they can get an engineering degree. Therefore, I think that the European model is one of the best in the world: it has good flexibility and helps to increase the number of specialists also through retraining programs.
- Does the modern England have a lack of engineers?
Yes, we do not have enough engineers. We are now changing technical training programs for engineers, including school programs, to enable more people to choose this profession.
Germany is the only country with a good school engineering program. Everything there is connected with the technical professions. They conduct tests among students, figuring out who can work better with metal or, for example, with electronics. Each school has special clubs, where students can improve their technical skills. After school a lot of students enter technical universities, of which the country has more than enough. So, where output is concerned, the country has very good professionals who have the necessary knowledge for this industry. I would say that German education is most appropriate for modern realities. However, the Germans have always been a technically very strong nation. Their education structure remains almost the same as before, changing only the knowledge. However, many other countries are trying to catch up and change their educational model, adopting the best that there is in other countries.
The UK relies heavily on foreign models: the American and European ones. Therefore, there is a lot of borrowing in our model. We have changed the curriculum for secondary schools to match the international standards of the profession. In the end, there are now more and more international projects. They even have the subject ‘engineering’ in the school curriculum now. In 10 years’ time we might be able to meet what is a current lack of personnel.
- Do the students have special training that would enable them to successfully participate in international projects?
You can become a certified engineer if you pass the examination. Then you will have a high ranking in all countries.
- How often does it happen, in your experience that students who have studied to be engineers then work in other professional fields?
In the UK, engineers can easily get a job in a big company or government agency with a decent salary, so they don’t have to work anywhere else. They work in their specific field and if they have ambitions, they will climb up the career ladder.
- Are the university graduates, having been offered a job, capable of coping alone with all the work entrusted to them?
In any country, graduates of engineering faculties have the status of young professionals for one or two years. They must go through this stage of being an ‘apprentice’ to become a good engineer.
- How do you see the further development of engineering education in the UK?
I hope that in 10-20 years the number of engineering students will grow significantly, and people will better understand the importance of this profession. I want to see younger successful engineers and more young teachers of engineering disciplines.
I hope the time will come when engineers will work not somewhere in the affiliated branches, but in the head offices of companies, involved in the negotiations and engaged in the promotion of their profession.
And finally, I want to see a world where most engineers will work on several projects, participate actively in the life of universities and advise the government.
Engineering is one of the leading professions in the world, which can change it for the better.
Engineering must satisfy the needs of the people in their free time, their health and their welfare. Now people work long hours and have little rest. But engineers are able to create systems and devices that can facilitate the work of these people. I often say to my students, “Imagine a world where you can do everything remotely. Not only regulate the heating or gas consumption, but also prepare food and give voice commands to different items of technical equipment.” Engineers automate various processes, thereby changing the face of the world, so they allow people to understand that their profession is one of the most important, because it changes things that are important to us. People also come to our profession because they see that technology makes life better. At the same time an engineer is required to have selflessness, dedication and a desire for continuous improvement.