Students’ degree fears as academics wrangle

Hundreds of engineering students in Britain could find that their degrees are not recognised by the profession when they graduate in three years’ time – because many universities are opting out of the official accreditation procedures. Students seeking places through the clearing system in particular have been warned to find out whether courses are accredited […]

Hundreds of engineering students in Britain could find that their degrees are not recognised by the profession when they graduate in three years’ time – because many universities are opting out of the official accreditation procedures.

Students seeking places through the clearing system in particular have been warned to find out whether courses are accredited by the Engineering Council (EngC) before accepting a university place.

The confusion has arisen because many universities are uneasy over a new system under which the Council – which governs professional standards – can scrutinise more tightly engineering degree students’ A-level standards, with the ultimate sanction of downgrading courses.

Universities fear courses with persistently low A-level scores among students will eventually be denied the right to award an engineering degree that will allow the graduate to go on to become a chartered engineer.

Instead, some universities believe their courses will be forced to adopt content leading to incorporated engineer status – seen as less prestigious by many academic institutions, despite such engineers being highly prized by industrial employers.

`There have always been fringe engineering courses without accreditation,’ said Engineering Council director Andrew Ramsay, `but we expect a substantial increase in the number of unaccredited courses.’

Students who take such courses face a potentially longer, more expensive and more uncertain route to becoming qualified. They could face extra study to satisfy the council’s requirements, Ramsay said.

Some engineers could find themselves, in their late twenties or early thirties, being forced to take modules from the Engineering Council’s examination or to demonstrate in some other way that they meet the council’s standards.

Ramsay said that among the broad mass of British universities is a group that does not want to be associated with the incorporated route.

However, many institutions have been quick to embrace the opportunities offered by the three-year BEng course, including Coventry, Greenwich, Middlesex and Staffordshire.

Survival of courses will depend on students’ A-level results

Under the Engineering Council’s Standards and Routes to Registration, the bible on becoming a professional engineer, universities may choose to offer four-year MEng courses leading to chartered status, or three-year BEng degrees leading to incorporated status. For the four-year degree, at least 50% of this year’s intake must have 18 Ucas points (three Cs at A-level). This will rise to 80% in annual increments of 10%. Accreditation has to be renewed at five year intervals.