Assistant principal redesigns ARU’s Engineering curriculum

Anglia Ruskin University (ARU)’s engineering undergraduate curriculum has been redesigned by Dr Esther Norton, assistant principal at ARU Peterborough, to dismantle barriers and encourage a more diverse pipeline of future engineers.

Anglia Ruskin University

Encouraging students to take a holistic approach to solving engineering challenges, Dr Norton also aims to provide ARU’s engineering intake with the professional skills they need to tackle 21st century challenges.

In a statement, Dr Norton said: “A common misconception is that we just need engineers who are really good at maths, but this isn’t the case. The world needs engineers who can communicate, who can problem solve, work as a team and appreciate different perspectives. There are so many examples of bad engineering design because of a lack of diversity of thought in design teams.”

The assistant principal sees maths as one of the barriers to people considering a career in engineering, so she has developed the course’s entry criteria to not include A Level maths.

“We do require a good pass at GCSE but that is purely to show that you can do maths,” said Dr Norton. “An effective engineering team requires a wide range of skills, including creativity, and I would urge anyone who has studied arts focused or humanities subjects to consider a career in engineering.

“Engineering is all about finding technical solutions to benefit people, society and the environment. So we need people who understand not only the technical but all these other aspects impacted by engineering."

The new curriculum also aims to increase the number of female applicants by ensuring that the right support for them is in place.

“While typically female students do better in their engineering degree than men, they don’t progress in the same way when in industry. So we, as higher education institutions, also have a role to play in having a positive impact on young female engineering students so that the future of the industry is a more inclusive one,” said Dr Norton.

“For our female students, we know it is really important for them to find their community on the course they are studying, and this is where women in engineering groups really play their part.”

Alongside widening access, ARU Peterborough has placed emphasis on project-based learning, so that students are working on real life engineering projects from day one to enable them to ‘think and behave as engineers from the very start of the course.’

“Typically engineering courses have been designed by engineers who are good abstract thinkers. What we are hoping to achieve through this restructured programme is that students will be given a more holistic view of engineering. We want to appeal to those who care about the environment and society, and want to make the world a better place.”

Dr Norton said that this gives students the context to relate theory to practice and to make connections across the subject areas, giving them that holistic vision which is vital to tackling current challenges like climate change.

“I genuinely believe that by removing barriers and by focusing the curriculum on an engineering project that centres around design for people and the environment, we can encourage a more diverse group of future engineers into a sector which offers rewarding and stimulating careers,” she said. “This will help to create discernible cultural change for the future of engineering and ensure that it is a bright and inclusive one.”

ARU Peterborough is a new university that is being purpose-built for the region, developed in partnership with  the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Peterborough City Council.

The university, which welcomed its first students in September 2022, has been named University of the Year at the UK Social Mobility Awards. With four main campuses, ARU was named the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2023.

More detail on ARU’s Engineering courses can be found here.