Engineering: turning ideas into reality: Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Overview and general conclusions

49. We were greatly impressed by the high quality and wide-ranging work to give young people experience of engineering. We are supportive of all efforts to make young people aware of the rewarding and challenging nature of a career in engineering. While we would not advocate that geo-engineering be championed as a research field above any other, we believe that it might have the 'X-factor' when it comes to alerting young people to global engineering challenges and we welcome its inclusion in engineering events. We are concerned, however, that engineering is not always promoted as a worthwhile, challenging and exciting career option, and advocate that it feature more prominently in the provision of careers advice at schools. (Paragraph 323)

Provision of engineering, and wider Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), careers advice is a central part of the Government's STEM programme. Accordingly, the Government fully supports this recommendation, and will continue to work towards its full implementation with the support of delivery partners including the Royal Academy of Engineering and STEMNET.

The Academy has developed The Shape the Future Programme to cover an extensive range of schemes and activities available for schools wishing to explore engineering in all its facets, and these are now widely disseminated through the STEM Directories, launched in September 2008. STEMNET is responsible for the promotion and dissemination of the directories at the regional level, as part of their wider responsibility for brokering STEM enrichment and enhancement activities.

STEMNET are also responsible for the STEM Ambassadors (formerly Science and Engineering Ambassadors) programme, which aims to have 27,000 ambassadors in place by March 2011. The RCUK Researchers in Residence programme fulfils a similar function by facilitating young people's encounters with practising scientists and engineers.

In conjunction with the Engineering and Technology Board (ETB) and the Royal Academy of Engineering, BIS and DCSF (Government) remain committed to the future of the Big Bang Fair, which earlier this year attracted over 7,000 visitors, and included the presentation of the first National Science Competition prize.

Careers awareness was a key theme within responses to the 2008 A Vision for Science and Society consultation. We announced recently the establishment of 5 expert groups to take forward the Science and Society strategy The careers group will address myths and disincentives that inhibit students from entering science and engineering careers, and build on the Science: [So what? So everything] campaign in communicating the possibilities.

This will supplement the important careers activity that DCSF has already introduced—for example through FutureMorph, introduced as part of their £140 million programme to promote and raise awareness of STEM careers to both children and parents.

50. The key to solving sector-specific shortages of engineers will ultimately lie in the UK's ability to train the next generation of generalist engineers, who will then specialise after university. Plastics electronics is one example of an industry that would benefit from the introduction of post-graduate programmes that offered generalist engineers specialised training. We recommend that EPSRC engage with industry to assess the potential for establishing a range of conversion courses according to need across the engineering sector to upskill generalist engineers. (Paragraph 331)

EPSRC supports the Committee's view concerning the importance of engaging with industry and is already working with industry representatives to identify priorities for postgraduate training.

For example, EPSRC recently announced funding for 45 new Centres for Doctoral Training, which will create communities of highly qualified students from a range of disciplines, focused on specific mission and research areas such as plastic electronics. The announcement included 17 Industrial Doctorate Centres, many of which focus on engineering, which were required to demonstrate significant industry demand as part of the criteria for funding. All such centres include taught coursework to develop technical and transferable skills. EPSRC believes that combining the development of transferable skills alongside training in research represents a strong model for delivering the advanced skills needed for the UK.

As a further example, within the recent £44M investment in Knowledge Transfer Accounts (KTAs), funding has been provided for a range of Continual Professional Development (CPD) courses which will afford those already working in industry the opportunity to enhance their existing skills or to develop advanced skills in new areas.

Specifically in the area of plastic electronics, EPSRC has funded a number of activities to develop industrial collaboration, research capacity and skills. These include:

  • An Innovation and Knowledge Centre in Advanced Manufacturing Technologies for Photonics and Electronics, at the University of Cambridge (awarded in January 2007).
  • A Doctoral Training Centre in Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London (awarded in December 2008).
  • A £6.9M programme grant led by Professor Sir Richard Friend at the University of Cambridge to develop and sustain a world-class research centre in organic semiconductor devices (awarded in March 2009).

51. We believe there to be value in incorporating management skills in post-graduate masters and doctoral programmes. We recommend that HEFCE, EPSRC, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the professional institutions co-ordinate to advise on best-practice in the delivery of this training by higher and further education institutes. (Paragraph 336)

The Government has facilitated through the Sector Skills Councils a richer dialogue between universities and employers so that course content can evolve to meet contemporary needs. Many taught masters programmes in engineering already have some elements of management in them.

EPSRC encourages universities to consider what management training should be included in the curriculum for postgraduate training, but considers that the primary responsibility for delivering skills training should lie with universities. EPSRC's Industrial Doctorate Centres are one approach to doctoral training that provides management training, usually in partnership with the university's business school, to prepare students for a career in industry. EPSRC would certainly be willing to engage further with other funding bodies to demonstrate the benefits of this particular approach and also to explore best practice models for training.

More broadly, the Research Councils provide Career Development and Transferable Skills Training (Roberts) Payments to universities. These amounted to £22M in 2007-08 and are for the development of research students and staff employed on research grants.

EPSRC will consider its role in this area in the light of the Higher Education Framework to be published by BIS this summer.

52. We support the Government's efforts to promote diversity in engineering. Its financial support for STEMNET and the Science and Engineering Ambassadors programme, WISE, the Computer Club for Girls, and the work of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering Development Trust is welcome and should continue. (Paragraph 344)

The Government fully supports this recommendation—diversity and inclusion underpin the Science and Society strategy's aim for a representative workforce, and Government will continue to stress this goal. We are not complacent, and recognise the extent of the ground which has to be made up to achieve greater representation of diverse groups.

We continue our support for the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET, and will encourage them to continue their support for women at all stages in their engineering careers. They are already promoting the long-term careers of women in academia the Athena SWAN Charter programme, and working with over 700 companies to improve workplace attitudes to diversity. They are also working with the Royal Academy of Engineering specifically to promote Diversity in Engineering. Their CEO Charter initiative is a good way to engage the engineering institutions, and through them their members, to develop effective practice in diversity in their organisations. We will encourage the Royal Academy of Engineering in their support for the Charter, and their ongoing work with UKRC. We will also continue to support both the Expert Group for Women in STEM and the WISE campaign.

HEFCE's National STEM programme will provide £20 million between 2009 and 2012 to support demand raising activities across the STEM landscape—this will enable expansion of programmes including the extension of the London Engineering Project.

We are particularly pleased that the Royal Academy of Engineering have signed up to the UKRC's CEO Charter, and would encourage other engineering organisations to do so.

While the work of UKRC helps support women who have already chosen a STEM career, we continue to support the WISE campaign, in recognition of the fact that work on diversity must begin at an early stage, at a point where they can reshape and influence career decisions.

STEMNET are also charged with ensuring that their ambassador cohort is representative and diverse; they will work to ensure that there are sufficient engineers from the broad diversity of backgrounds to inspire and motivate children to pursue similar paths.

Similarly, the BIS small grants scheme has the specific remit of enabling participation by under-represented groups in National Science and Engineering Week. Funding was doubled in 2009, and will continue into 2010.

Broadening access to engineering to women and the ethnic minorities is also a major aim of the London Engineering Project mentioned earlier, and it is hoped that the effective practice established there will be disseminated nationally through the HEFCE funded National STEM Programme, now being run by Birmingham University.

53. We are concerned that evidence is lacking on the factors that affect the career choices of women and other under-represented groups. We recommend that DIUS commission research to examine these factors. This evidence should then be used as a platform from which to develop and target widening participation initiatives. (Paragraph 345)

BIS is commissioning a research project to assess the reasons why around 50% of STEM graduates choose not to go into STEM careers. That research is expected to be published in 2010.

As detailed above, from the work of the WISE Campaign it has been recognised for some time that only 15% of engineering undergraduates are women. This correlates directly with the fact that only 20% of A level Physics candidates are women. The major issue is to encourage more women to take A level Physics. The Institute of Physics looked at this problem in its report Girls in the Physics Classroom (June 2006) which recommended pedagogic change at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4. It would seem that development of these ideas through practical (empirical) programmes in schools (again as done in the London Engineering Project) might prove more effective than to commission further abstract attitudinal research.

54. We suggest that the engineering institutions, Engineering Council UK and the Government (see Paragraph 284, Chapter 5) should do a better job of promoting Chartered Engineer status (CEng), Incorporated Engineer status (IEng) and Engineering Technician status (EngTech). In the same way the general public respects academic qualifications such as PhDs, Masters and Honours Degrees, or professional qualifications in law and medicine, so should it be possible to inform the public about the professional status of CEng, IEng and EngTech. (Paragraph 357)

This is primarily for the Engineering Council UK (ECUK) and the major (accrediting) engineering institutions. Engineers should aspire to CEng status (and Institutional membership through the support and status which they bestow on them as professionals). This is to be achieved through demonstrating their relevance to professional engineers at all stages of their career and in ensuring that the standards, support and services are world-class on a par with, for example, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

ECUK has successfully promoted CEng recognition as an internationally recognised professional engineering qualification through the FEANI and Washington Accord networks. The advantages of this to practising engineers need to be more widely publicised within the profession in the UK, particularly given the increasing uptake of Institution membership abroad, especially in China and South East Asia.

The engineering institutions must be able to demonstrate their relevance. The issue is related more widely to that of the retention of engineering graduates in the profession, which will be considered in part by the BIS-funded Engineers for Enterprise Study, which is looking at developing undergraduate engineering degree courses to better meet the diverse needs of industry.

55. There is a need for better trans-departmental management of engineering policy. The Government should adopt a practice of formulating and following roadmaps for each major engineering programme, including skills provision (see Chapter 2) with co-ordination between each of them. The Government should also be more strategic in its support for emerging industries and policy areas (see Chapters 3 and 4). Finally, Government would benefit from having senior officials tasked to oversee engineering roadmaps and strategic plans, and to manage engineering advice in a Civil Service with more residual and specialised engineering expertise. There should be two people responsible for this challenging body of work: a Government Chief Scientific and Engineering Adviser and a Government Chief Engineer (see Chapter 5). (Paragraph 360)

The Government recognises the need for improvement, and has already taken a number of steps to better facilitate the use of engineering in trans-departmental policy. These include the introduction of joint Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets, the increased effectiveness of the CSAC network, and improved links with the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering Institutions.

The Government does not agree that the use of engineering in Government should be overseen by two separate people, as this would add an unnecessary layer of complexity and the potential to cause confusion.

56. We are convinced that the considerable strength of the UK's engineering base makes it both this nation's responsibility and in its economic interest to play a major part, through our engineering base, in solving global problems such as climate change, food and water supply, energy security and economic instability. The recent economic crisis has presented the Government with a once-in-generation opportunity to restructure the economy by building on the existing substantial strengths of UK engineering. (Paragraph 362)

The Government welcomes the Committee's support for the UK engineering base, and shares its view of the importance of engineering to the UK and its economy. The Government also recognises the opportunities presented by the economic situation, and on 20 April published Building Britain's Future: New Industry, New Jobs, setting out how we would take advantage of these opportunities. Engineering was one of the promising areas identified in this paper as being key to the economy of the future.

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Prepared 26 June 2009