Dispute over quality control for engineering students

Proposals to determine whether students are more suited to degrees leading to chartered or incorporated status on the basis of A-level results could be abandoned in the face of continued opposition from the Engineering Professors’ Council and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, it emerged this week.

`It seems to be illogical to assume that you can assure the quality of output [degree results] by specifying input standards [A-level results],’ said Professor Barry Plumb, chairman of the Engineering Professors’ Council.

The proposals are part of Sartor 97 – the Engineering Council-led programme to raise engineering education standards. Sartor’s prescriptive approach to entry standards was `illogical and flies in the face of experience in higher education and in engineering in particular’ where entry requirements had successfully been broadened,’ said Plumb.

His opponents say there is not enough comparability between degrees from different institutions. Plumb believes that the system of external examiners is doing its job of maintaining equivalence between different universities.

Professor Jack Levy, Engineering Council director for engineers’ regulation, admitted that difficulties remained to be resolved over entry qualifications to engineering degree courses under the Sartor 97 proposals.

The Engineering Council voted to go ahead with the Sartor 97 proposals on 28 May. A final version will not however be made available until after the Dearing report on further and higher education, expected in July.

Under the proposals as they stand, students with the equivalent of three B grades will be eligible for a four year MEng course.

This will be the main route to chartered status. Students with the equivalent of three Cs would join a three-year BEng degree leading to incorporated status.

The IMechE, IChemE and IEE have approved the general thrust of Sartor 97 and the proposals are endorsed by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the DTI and the EEF.

Levy said there were `no major outstanding difficulties except for entry standards’.

By David Fowler