Two weeks after starting the induction term at Ensam in Angers, France, most of the group of 12 British students were reeling from an advanced series of maths lectures in French.
Trotignon put their maths level at about two years behind their French colleagues a gap they were expected to make up with lectures in a foreign language over just two months.
Many found the content daunting: ‘I have yet to be convinced that years of practising equations and deriving things from first principles will be useful for our future careers,’ said Charlie Richardson, a Birmingham University graduate in mechanical engineering.
Anamul Hoque, a graduate from Brighton University, said it was a year and a half since he had been working on this kind of maths, which made it all the more difficult to come back to.
‘Do we need to be able to do this? What do we have computers for?’ he asked. But Gavin MacLeod, engineering graduate from Imperial College in London, believes there is a point to all the maths: ‘Ultimately, it cuts down on the amount of trial-and-error testing that engineers may have to do.’
Another graduate student, Dylan Bourguignon, who is half French and bilingual, said the approach to teaching was the reverse of what he had experienced at Bristol University.
He said: ‘I have been to some of the ordinary lectures with other French students here and they end up with a highly theoretical and in-depth treatment. The lectures are very abstract, and the applications come at the end. In the UK, you tend to start with the example, and then go to the equations.’
The hours are demanding too, with work starting at 7.45am and going on to the early evening. ‘It’s a very heavy programme,’ said Richardson.
Despite this, all the students remained positive about the long-term career benefits they felt they would gain from the n+1 scheme.
By the end of November, all had lasted the course, their tutors reported marked improvements in their French and their maths, and the group had fixed up industrial placements and places at engineering schools for 1999.
The Engineer will return to the n+1 students in February, with a report on the progress of the students’ industrial placements in France.