Students, lecturers give views on future of UK engineering

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A new report based on a major survey commissioned by GE of nearly 1,000 engineering students and lecturers details their views about the current state of the engineering technology sector.

The research was intended to find out what technology leaders of today and tomorrow think about the future of engineering technology, as well as the perceptual differences between lecturers and students. The sample was of 861 students and 123 lecturers from a range of UK institutions.

The way in which engineering is viewed by society is seen by lecturers as the most important factor in developing a best-in-class culture in the UK, coming ahead of investment in higher education or businesses.

But there is clearly a challenge to improve the image of engineering — despite the fact that students see it as positive, many lecturers think it is more difficult to attract people to the sector than it was when they first began their career.

For lecturers, the fact that engineering is an ‘interesting topic’ was the most important reason behind their decision to pursue it as a career — they felt that career or salary prospects were not as important.

While interest in the subject was also the most important reason behind students’ decisions to study the topic, career prospects came a close second, reflecting the fact that students are much more optimistic about career opportunities in engineering than their lecturers. Students are also more positive about the profession’s salary prospects than lecturers.

The research also looked at the innovations that most inspired this new generation of engineers. Asked what they thought were the most world-changing innovations over the past century, the students listed their top five as being: computers and electronics, communications technology, transportation technology, power and energy technology.

The report also shows there is a clear disparity between students and lecturers in terms of job prospects for engineering graduates. While more than nine out of 10 students are confident of their career prospects when they graduate, lecturers think it is harder to attract young people into the sector, that the UK doesn’t have a growing talent pool to draw on and that the UK scores lower than other countries for its prospects.

The engineering sector is seen as critical to the UK economy, with an overwhelming majority of students thinking it is very or fairly important to contribute to the UK’s economic prosperity.

But both lecturers and students are concerned about the impact of cuts in public spending and rising tuition fees on the number of young people selecting an engineering technology degree in the future.

More than three-quarters of students think the government should do more to support the engineering technology sector, while well in excess of half of lecturers disagree with the government’s strategy for the sector.