Number of engineering degrees may be reduced

A possible reduction in the number of engineering degrees offered in Irish colleges is to be considered in a review for the Higher Education Authority.

The effectiveness of current engineering education is to be examined, with recommendations about new apprenticeship models, professional development for working engineers, and teaching methods.

In what is likely to be a preliminary review of the sector, the HEA plans to have a background paper by May on some of these questions, to help guide a more detailed analysis.

A previous thematic review examined teacher training provision for primary and second-level in 2013. The main courses for entry to the profession have subsequently been extended by a year.

The review of engineering is being considered, and is set to look at international trends, as well as opportunities to better meet the needs of students, employers and research activity.

“The review will examine the current state of engineering education provision in Ireland to establish if it is fit for purpose, efficient and effective and will make recommendations so as to better meet national skills needs,” says a brief for parties who may be selected to prepare the background paper.”

The take-up of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees is low relative to strong employer demand in Ireland.

Science, computing and maths graduates account for nearly 14% of all receiving third-level qualifications, much higher than an EU average of less than 10%.

But the 12.1% who get engineering, manufacturing and construction degrees are just below the corresponding average across 27 EU countries.

Part of the background paper author’s role will be to look at likely future skills demands and also to take into account requirements to increase gender equality in higher education and to make engineering attractive as a career.

Ahead of its Engineers Week from March 4 to 10, Engineers Ireland recently held discussions between the education sector and the industry to examine some of those questions specific to civil engineering. They also considered the possibility for collaboration with the UK to minimise the impact of Brexit on the profession.

The organisation says there is a particularly acute shortage of graduates from civil engineering, which are expected to drop below 40 this year after being as high as 600 just three years ago.

A number of universities have been changing entry routes to engineering degrees in recent years.

Leaving Certificate students applying to University College Cork and University College Dublin, for example, seek entry directly to a general engineering course, rather than choosing whether they wish to study specific disciplines such as mechanical or civil engineering. UCC reported a 50% rise in undergraduate engineering applications last year.

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