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

Posted On: 
1st June 2017

IET and Engineering Professors' Council conference highlights higher education institution's attempts to update engineering courses to reflect the needs of the modern engineering workplace.

The IET's proposed new approach seeks to address the skills shortages and gaps in engineering degree courses.
Credit: 
PA Images

Entry into engineering degree courses needs a radical overhaul, senior representatives from higher education and government were told last week.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), in partnership with the Engineering Professors' Council, argued engineering degree students need a greater emphasis on creativity and less on Maths and Physics.

The organisation's president Professor Jeremy Watson described the importance of "harnessing" student's creativity as opposed to the "outdated" significance of maths and science. 

The IET brought 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 marked a sea-change, signalling key ground-breaking global initiatives that are making engineering degrees more attractive to students and better suited to the changing needs of industry and society.

The 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 said it 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.

Professor Watson said: "There is an urgent need to get more young people studying engineering, but we are 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 student's 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 added: "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 thing 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."