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Back to school

The civils job market is tougher than ever, and a strong qualification can help get you ahead of the competition.

Economic downturn and construction cutback has had a two-pronged effect on construction courses.
Full time and mainstream MSc courses have, if anything, increased in popularity for a mixture of reasons. First is that students unable to find full time career positions have opted to made good use of their spare time and simultaneously improve their competitiveness in the job market. Secondly intake from overseas has increased proportionately, helped by the still booming growth of economies such as China and India.

But workplace and industry sponsored courses have dropped back. Both Symmons Madge, long time provider of a wide range of short courses for professional skill upgrading and Enka, which offers site practice training and practical skills for graduates, have seen a tightening of the market in recent times.

Some part-time and distance learning courses also report changes, like Bath’s distance learning centre which sees a greater proportion of students coming from overseas.

Madge is broadening its prospectus and looking for new areas such as nuclear power engineering, which is about to boom as new power stations are begun, and renewables also. Enka has drawn in its horns by reducing the number of course centres it runs, though may be about to re-expand to some extent.

Symmons is exploring a number of overseas training arrangements in the Middle East ,expanding on the in-house training service it offers consultants and contractors in the UK.

Longer term courses which originate in industry, such as the HNC-based course path at Newport, University of Wales, have also felt the pinch as companies have decided to economise.
But the civils education sector continues to develop courses and offer new ones.

Derby University

Derby is offering a new MSc from January next year, which will put a stronger emphasis than most on infrastructure development and management. Modules include flood management and, appropriately for a city built around railways, transport. The course, Derby’s first advanced option, has been titled “Civil engineering and construction management” to reflect a strong management content but it will also have modules pushing it towards planning procedure and law, says course director Brian Counter.

“It continues and develops our unique BSc ‘Civil & infrastructure engineering’ for those wanting to push on to chartered status as well as offering a different emphasis for those in careers,” he explains. Some 16 full-time and part time students are signed up, and others could join at the second entry point in June.

Bath University

Bath University has recently set up course centres in Canada and Zambia for its popular International Construction Management MSc course, to complement facilities in Bath. Participation in two weeks of residential study is a requirement of the course. Work experience is an entry requirement for the course which uses primarily computer based teaching methods for its mostly working population, drawn from companies in the UK and around the world.

The course can be taken as a post-graduate diploma or with an additional dissertation as a fully-fledged MSc and currently has around 300 working through its 18 month to five year programme. Most students, fitting study around their work, take around three years to complete. Demand for the course has been increasing.

Civil engineers also take up some of the places on the more general Integrated Environmental Management course which again leads to an MSc, though its basic modules can also be taken as a stand-alone for accreditation to the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.

Edinburgh Heriot-Watt University

The popular Civil Engineering & Construction Management MSc course continues to attract a large number of students. Distance learning is also available. The intake is around 50% from the UK and half from all around the world, including India, China and the Middle East. The course specialises in management skills for large projects.

Edinburgh has a variety of other courses, especially specialising in water engineering. Sustainable River Catchment Flood Management and Water Resource Catchment Management cover the two ends of the spectrum, the latter particularly attracting an intake from the Middle East and Africa while flood management has more students from Europe.

Edinburgh also offers MSc courses in Safety & Risk Management and Safety, Risk & Reliability Engineering, as distance learning courses.

The university is also developing a specialist course in the technology of concrete Rheology & Concrete Engineering in conjunction with the Concrete Society which it hopes to be offering next year.

University of Wales, Newport

A new MSc course at Wales’ smallest civil engineering department is being given a second chance to establish itself this year after a low intake last year meant insufficient numbers to keep the course going, probably as a result of the economic downturn.

Newport teaches an industrial based intake along an HNC/HND path towards a full BSc degree and wanted to complete its offering with the MSc in pure civil engineering for those going furthest.
Newport’s course is run in line with ICE guidelines but needs another year of full teaching to achieve full accreditation.


Glasgow Caledonian University has established a new London campus in the Spitalfields area near the City for students taking some of its more business and management orientated MSc courses. The university has a range of MScs which draw intake from civil engineering and construction including Construction Economics, Construction Management, Energy & Environmental Management, Waste Management and International Project Management. A new course offers Quantity Surveying and there are several business focused courses like Risk Management and Public Sector Management.

The courses, which are done as one year full time or two year part time courses, draw a fairly large overseas intake, particularly from India, Pakistan, China and Nigeria.

City University, London

With a major business school as part of the university, City offers a variety of business orientated courses attracting civil engineers as well as specialist courses.

One course drawing significant attention especially from overseas students is Project Management, Finance &

Risk looking at issues raised by private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships,
and the provision of capital projects on a long term service basis.

Risk in decision making, and financial instruments are key parts of the course. “The course is rooted in technology more than the conventional MBA approach,” says course director Martin Newby.

City also has a Construction Management course which mixes management modules from its business school with professionally based construction components delivered by outside lecturers drawn from the industry and offering industry practice and case studies.

Civils courses also include the specialised Fire, Blast and Earthquake Engineering, which has recently been relaunched to emphasise its seismic component and the pure Structures course which attracts a significant intake. Finally, there is an MSc course in Professional Engineering, which is intended to be part of a path towards chartership. It is set up to be as flexible as possible, drawing modules from other courses and departments to allow tailoring of direction.

Symmons Madge

Short course supplier Symmons Madge continues to offer over 300 short courses between one and three days in duration, for civil engineers to extend their skills. Two particularly popular courses aimed at new graduates are training in how to carry out written assignments and preparation for the professional review. Traditional subjects like transportation “have taken a knock”, it says, but sustainable renewable energy and nuclear are both buoyant; the firm is developing a suite of courses on renewable energy.

Symmons is also continuing the mentoring service it offers, whereby it steps in to relieve hard-pressed senior engineers of the need to monitor graduates, visiting every two months and maintaining email contact.

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