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Building blocks for learning

Courses Modular learning

Universities are trying harder than ever to attract postgraduate students by offering a growing array of modular or 'blocktaught' courses. Fiona McWilliam reports.

Our traditional market for MSc courses has been overseas students. Interest has been strong in recent years, but we have implemented a number of developments to make Sheffield's MSc courses more appealing to home students, ' says Aleksandar Pavic, professor of vibration engineering and EPSRC (Environmental & Physical Science Research Council) advanced research fellow at the University of Sheffield's department of civil and structural engineering.

From this October, for example, all Sheffield's taught postgraduate courses leading to an MSc degree or postgraduate certificate or diploma, will be block-taught. 'This will make the course easier to attend for part-time home students, ' Pavic explains, 'and enables us to offer 10-credit modules taught over two- to three-week periods.' He notes a particularly strong interest in highly specialised CPD modules delivered as a part of Sheffield's environmental management of urban land and water. Home students can secure bursaries for these, and the university's new earthquake and civil engineering dynamics courses (NCE 11 March 2004).

Sheffield's one-year MSc courses also constitute a first or 'warming up' year of a New Route PhD - a programme lasting four instead of the traditional three years. The New Route PhD is a major development involving over 20 UK universities and supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the British Council. Leading to a full PhD thesis, the programme is designed to enhance students' subject knowledge and develop a range of subjectspecific and important generic research skills. 'Responding to requests from our international partners for a doctoral programme with a greater taught component, the New Route PhD will also provide students with skills for the world of work and enhance their employability, ' Pavic explains.

Imperial College boasts industrial support groups for geotechnics and transport, and its transport 'cluster' is co-ordinating a new National Transport post graduate qualification. 'We also have extensive contacts with industry that influence and help shape our approach, ' says Richard Jardine, professor of geomechanics.

Imperial now offers what it refers to as a 'suite' of 25 MSc courses grouped into four main technical clusters:environment, geotechnics, structures and transport. Each encompasses a range of technical choices. Imperial also offers quarter degree options in business management or sustainable development, which can be attached to any of the available 'technical cores'.

Another driver for Imperial's evolving MSc provision, Jardine adds, has been the Research Council initiatives, notably the EPSRC's Masters Training Programme and, from this year, Collaborative Training Account (CTA) arrangements.

Universities bid for a lump sum of money - the CTA - which can be allocated to various research projects as they arise rather than having to bid for cash to support each individual project. The intention is to allow a faster response to the needs of industry.

'We have secured substantial funding from both for student support and course development, ' says Jardine.

Cardiff University's MSc in geoenvironmental engineering is also supported by an MTP award. The scheme is multidisciplinary and is open to all 'good' graduates with a background in civil engineering or related subjects. It has close involvement with industrial partners and offers a number of CPD courses.

Cardiff also offers MSc courses in civil engineering, structural engineering and water engineering. All four schemes are accredited by the ICE, IStructE and IHT, as meeting the further learning requirements for a chartered engineer, and all are offered part-time as well as full-time.

Portsmouth University offers MSc courses in construction project management and civil engineering practice. Both of these are aimed primarily at part-time students working in industry, but can also be studied full time.

A programme of MSc courses structured around a core MSc in civil engineering comprises a number of 'with options' which enable students to specialise in civil engineering with either construction management, earthquake technology, environmental engineering or structural engineering.

The MSc in civil engineering practice has been specifically designed - and is accredited - to form an ICE Matching Section.

Senior lecturer David Grant explains that it aims 'to give further learning to BEng students wishing to proceed to chartered engineer status'. The part-time study mode of this option comprises one intensive semester at Portsmouth with the remainder of the course based on a student's activities in his or her workplace.

Portsmouth's courses are 'very heavily' linked to industry, Grant insists. 'We have a very active industrial advisory group which comments on the structure of our undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and advises on new courses, ' he says. Teaching of most courses includes site visits and guest lecturers from industry.

Bath University's MSc in construction management is constantly evolving in line with industry changes and the input of external industrial advisors.

The university also runs an MSc in faþade engineering and is about to start several new courses - an MEng in civil engineering and an MPhil in structural engineering - both in direct response to industry requirements.

City University also boasts strong links with industry.

Formal advisory panels exist both at school and at civil engineering level, says Kuldeep Virdi, associate dean, post graduate studies, adding: 'Under a scheme administered by the Royal Academy of Engineering, sponsors of MSc students on our programmes can have 50% of their fees refunded.'

Having run for almost 30 years, City's MSc in civil engineering is nevertheless frequently updated. New modules on fire engineering and shock, and earthquake analysis - compulsory for the hazards programme - are now available as electives on the civil engineering programme.

INFOPLUS University of Sheffield www. shef. ac. uk/civil/pg/eced/ Imperial College, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 0207 594 6083 www. iceo. ic. ac. uk University of Bath 01225 388388 www. bath. ac. uk/ Cardiff School of Engineering www. cf. ac. uk/engin/ City University 020 7040 5060 www. city. ac. uk University of Portsmouth 023 9284 8484 www. port. ac. uk

CPD opt-out

CPD training companies are constantly refining the services they provide.

As approved supervising engineer for the ICE, Brian Madge Associates says it is the first training company to offer third party or surrogate supervision for graduate engineers wishing to become chartered.

'We can do everything an internal supervising engineer can do but, as most supervising engineers are busy people, we tend to be more focused on an individual's training needs, ' says partner Bryan Madge. It's the equivalent to firms contracting out catering or transport, he adds, 'and they expect us to deliver'.

The company is approaching the end of its first year as a contract supervising engineer and Madge notes that while he initially anticipated smaller companies taking advantage of the service, all 25 of the first intake of trainees actually work for larger firms.

'Once they've done their sums', companies have realised that it makes economic sense to contract out the supervision of its would-be chartered engineering staff, Madge asserts.

Madge describes the ICE's recent introduction of its technical report route to membership as another area of opportunity for specialist professional training firms which will be able to supply suitably qualified mentors for prospective candidates. 'We're running a number of trial courses in Wales, which we soon intend to extend nationally, ' he adds.

Achieva Training, a division of Joynes Pike Consulting Engineers, currently runs two public programmes of CPD courses annually, in spring and autumn.

These are aimed mainly at graduate engineers and address the ICE core objectives, explains training manager Dagmar Roberts.

'For our autumn 2004 programme we have included a wider range of subject areas, including report writing skills, leadership and teamwork, project risk analysis and risk management, and financial awareness.'

As well as technical and management courses Achieva is moving towards offering more legislation-led courses on such issues as major changes to Building Regulations, new Eurocodes, the management of asbestos in buildings, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Landfill Directive.

Another development for Nottingham-based Achieva is working more closely with its local universities in jointly addressing the specific CPD training requirements of small and medium sized businesses within our region.

'The technical expertise of university lecturers combined with the commercial skills of Achieva aims to identify the training needs and deliver relevant courses to the East Midlands construction sector, ' Roberts explains.

The ICE's training company, Thomas Telford Training, offers more than 200 course titles, and this is set to expand in 2005. 'In particular, we anticipate further increases in the demand for our training on Eurocodes, ' says general manager Mike Cookson. 'Companies need to begin preparing now if they are to be properly prepared for the implementation of the codes, ' he adds, 'and they should also expect to see additional demand for health and safety training and updates, driven by forthcoming changes in legislation and best practice.'

In the past year, an increasing number of clients have asked for tailored or bespoke training, Cookson notes. 'This is particularly true of areas such as commercial awareness training where clients are looking to incorporate their own strategies and processes into the training programme, ' he says.

INFOPLUS Bryan Madge Associates 01446 775959 www. bryanmadge.co.uk/ Achieva Training 0115 960 1200 www. achievatraining.co.uk Thomas Telford Training 0800 1830133 www. t-telford.co.uk

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