Fundamental to the competitiveness of engineering companies is the need to keep pace with new technology and to train its managers for the future.
As technologies advance, knowledge gained at university becomes outdated, and young engineers can be ill-equipped to cope with the realities of management responsibility.
The Integrated Graduate Development Scheme has tried to address the problem. It develops part-time Masters’ degrees for graduates in industry with the aim of helping engineers to specialise in rapidly developing technologies and learn the rudiments of management.
Since it was set up in 1979, the range of subjects has expanded to include aerospace design, manufacture and management, steel process, product development and even bioprocessing. A total of 45 courses are offered this year.
‘The aim is that it should provide one complete model of training for graduates who are in industry and expect technical and management responsibility,’ says Dr Rachel Howell, IGDS co-ordinator at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Most IGDS Masters lead to an MSc. The courses are part-time but are more than just an MSc: ‘The Masters should provide the knowledge to enable students to implement the technology they’re learning in a context,’ says Howell.
Central to the idea of context-based learning is the student’s project on a subject chosen to be relevant to their work.
On average 8-10 hours a week are taken to spend on study, but sometimes this may be concentrated in periods of up to a week.
Courses are initiated by universities in partnership with industry. Academics submit proposals developed by a management committee with strong influence from industry.
‘They have to provide evidence there’s demand for the courses,’ says Howell. ‘And there has to be a strong management element. There was always the feeling that engineers and manufacturing industry didn’t know how to communicate their knowledge and to generate faster changes.’
The EPSRC puts up the money to develop new courses proposed by participating universities, funding them for five years.
It costs £450,000 to develop a course over the five years. This often includes buying expensive equipment, researching industrial needs and hiring lecturers to do the work.
‘Our role is to help institutions fund the new courses,’ says Howell. ‘Companies couldn’t pay to develop them as their own.’ After the first five years, each course funds itself.
IGDS has won over 300 companies since it began 18 years ago. It has 800 students on its books and £3m to fund further IGDS programmes during the next five years.
The EPSRC has just launched a call for new proposals that will come up with innovative methods of delivery and open up IGDS to distance learning. It is also trying to attract new areas of study, such as computing and medical engineering.
New courses this year will include industrial data modelling, colour application technology and contaminated land management. The next wave will include more computer science, mathematics and design.
On these pages there is a cross-section of courses with particular relevance to manufacturing. A complete list is available on the EPSRC Web site, www.epsrc.ac.uk.