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Talking Point

Industrial collaboration with the higher education sectors is essential and it is needed now, according to University of Portsmouth’s Nick Koor.

Higher education in the UK is heading into the unknown: the number of 18 year olds is set to decrease by about 250,000 by 2020 and fees are rising to a maximum of £9,000 a year in 2012.

Universities and courses will be competing for high achieving students from a decreasing pool of available talent.

This is going to have a significant impact on the recruitment of graduates into the professions where, as a minimum, an undergraduate degree is required to become a full professional.

It has been clear to me for some time that the number of graduates wanting a career in the ground engineering sector is set to diminish if industry does not assist the HE sector in attracting quality science-based students onto civil engineering and engineering geology and geotechnics degrees.

As successful companies are built around the people they employ, we as an industry need to start thinking smart, and quick.

Many would say that it should be government which supports the HE sector and I agree with this, but the reality is that we have lost this argument - for the time being at least.

Others may argue that they can simply recruit graduates from overseas and Europe.

While in the short term this may be adequate, I do not believe this is sustainable and I doubt very much whether any company would commit to a business plan based on this recruitment model.

“The consequences of not doing something now may have lasting irreversible effects”

The University of Portsmouth has a long tradition (since 1967) of educating engineering geologists and geotechnical engineers, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Many of these graduates now hold key positions in highly successful consultants and contractors.

Our aim is to continue this long tradition, but this is going to become increasingly difficult without outside help. So what can we do?

One model that is proven work is an industrial scholarship or bursary scheme combined with four-year sandwich undergraduate degrees.

These exist at some universities for civil engineering degrees.

However, since 2009 I have been running an Industrial Bursary Scheme at the University of Portsmouth for our Engineering Geology and Geotechnics sandwich degree students.

Industry involvement - a small financial incentive (£2,000 a year) plus paid year-long placements - has had a positive effect.

Numbers entering our first year have increased from about 15 to 20 students several years ago to currently over 30 students a year.

I currently have 23 students being sponsored by only seven companies but we need more, especially the larger international consultants, if we are to grow a sustainable industrial sponsorship pool.

The consequences of not doing something now may have lasting irreversible effects.

I am calling on the industry to support schemes such as the one at Portsmouth to ensure that we can educate and train the students who will become the next generation of ground engineering professionals.

  • Nick Koor is the applied geoscience programme manager at the University of Portsmouth’s School of Earth & Environmental Sciences

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