As featured in The Times, letters to the editor (in response to the article published 05.09.16)
Engineering a new approach to university
Sir, I am delighted that you extol the virtues of the flexible approach to education proposed by the New Model in Technology and Engineering (leader, Sep 5). However, NMiTE is not the only example — flexibility and innovation is alive and well in our universities. In my own department, all the students are adults in the workplace who are not interested in set curricula and lectures. We design programmes of learning completely tailored to their needs, delivered in ways that suit them, not us. All is geared towards the solution of practical workplace problems.
We are not alone in this kind of practice. There are now at least 50 British universities offering some form of “work-based learning”. The emphasis on flexibility and practical learning is not new but is not recognised as a “subject” by the Higher Education Statistics Authority and so has largely escaped wider recognition. Policymakers should take greater heed of this unheralded innovation.
Dr Jon Talbot
Centre for Work Related Studies, University of Chester
Sir, There is a widening gulf between the skills that higher education providers supply and those that engineering employers demand. As a result, a range of new educational and training initiatives are being proposed that focus on project-based learning, aiming to equip engineering students with the practical and problem-solving skills that the engineering industry requires. There is good evidence that some of these initiatives are not only more effective in developing these critical engineering skills but that they can appeal to a broader and more inclusive range of students — which will hopefully include more girls. At a time when we must improve both the quality and quantity of our future engineers, new educational approaches to tackling this challenge, such as NMiTE, are to be welcomed.
President, Institution of Engineering and Technology
Sir, There is nothing new about the educational ideas that are to be promoted by NMiTE, it is just that they take a long time to percolate through the English system of education. In 1966 the late Sir Charles Carter, vice-chancellor of the University of Lancaster, drafted proposals for an integrated engineering programme that embraced project and problem-based learning.
In the US millions of dollars have poured into engineering education as a field of study over the past 20 years, but little of what has been learnt has percolated through to Europe. NMiTE might follow the example of Purdue and Virginia Tech and create a department of engineering education for the purpose of training a cadre of teachers fluent in alternative approaches to curriculum, its delivery, and assessment.
Professor John Heywood
Bray, Co Wicklow
Sir, The New Model in Technology and Engineering, “Britain’s first wholly new university in four decades”, is to be welcomed. The approach to the teaching of applied knowledge through project-based learning within an institutional setting and ethos focused on teaching quality sounds similar to our successful pre-1992 polytechnic system that was sacrificed by a cynical political response to criticism of the low number of university places in Britain. This return to an emphasis on training in the application of science in engineering and technology merits support.
Professor Michael Pacione
Milton of Campsie, E Dunbartonshire
Sir, Your leader states that university academics “sometimes struggle to carry out research while teaching undergraduates”. In my experience, many academics struggle to teach undergraduates because their main interest lies in carrying out research.