Press release

Engineering degree students need creativity more than Maths and Physics A levels

22 May 2017

Entry into engineering degree courses needs a radical overhaul with less emphasis on Maths and Physics and a greater focus on creativity, a conference of senior representatives from industry, higher education and government will hear today.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), in partnership with the Engineering Professors’ Council, is bringing together engineering experts and higher education leaders from across the globe to see how the UK higher education sector can learn from institutions in the UK and globally who have adopted pioneering approaches within their engineering degree courses.

The New Approaches to Engineering Higher Education event will mark a sea-change, signalling key ground-breaking global initiatives that are making engineering degree more attractive to students and better suited to the changing needs of industry and society.

These approaches include:

  • changing entry criteria to remove the roadblock for those who have studied humanities or arts subjects instead of maths and physics to an advanced level at school
  • refocusing the higher education curriculum away from ‘theory’ to creating solutions to make a better world
  • offering internships, placements and work-related learning opportunities during the degree course
  • making courses more appealing and accessible to women and mature students, creating a diverse profession

The IET believes adopting these approaches will help to address skills shortages and gaps – and is calling for fundamental changes to the entry criteria that most UK universities currently require before students can start engineering undergraduate degree programmes.

IET President, Prof Jeremy Watson CBE, will say: “There is an urgent need to get more young people studying engineering, but we’re currently excluding vast numbers of students because they have not formally studied Maths and Physics. 

“This is an outdated view that we need to change.  We’re not saying that these subjects aren’t important but the role of an engineer is about solving creative challenges so we must also harness students’ creativity.

“The important principles of Maths and Physics can be taught in a relevant ‘work-ready’ way as part of a degree. It is also crucially important that engineering courses refocus on teaching problem solving and creating solutions to improve our world and society.

“This should also include an element of high-quality work experience so that students are adequately prepared for the workplace and are equipped with the skills employers demand.”

Incoming EPC President, Prof Sarah Spurgeon OBE, will add: “The academic community of engineers sits at the frontier of creating solutions to the challenges of the real world. Now we need to turn our expertise on our own profession to meet the impending skills emergency in this country.

“You need Maths and Physics to be a good engineer, but these are things we can teach and they are not all you need. We need students with the imagination to dream a better world and the skills to build it.”

The IET’s 2016 annual ‘Skills and Demand in Industry’ Survey shows that, despite a rise in demand for engineering staff, 62% of UK employers find that many new engineering graduates have significant skills gaps, while 68% are concerned that the education system will struggle to keep up with the skills required for technological change. This is at a time when, to secure a sustainable economic future, we need to rebalance the economy towards technology and considerably increase the number of engineering graduates from UK universities and colleges.

Notes to editors:

Organisations speaking at the event will include Aston University, Harper Adams University, NMiTE (New Methods in Technology and Engineering), UCL, University of Liverpool, University of Strathclyde, Royal Holloway University (UK), Olin College of Engineering (USA), Lassonde School of Engineering (Canada), and BuroHappold Engineering.