We must dispel fears that the new tuition fee rises will lead students into debt.
Last December’s student riots were a visible example of an expression of the concerns about the future of higher education in the UK.
The students, and the media, have understandably focused on the fees, which can be up to £9,000. This has also arisen as a salient issue for employers, who expect a down turn in the number of civil engineering graduates.
There is a public perception that the fee increases will lead students into debt as they will be required to pay a 9% contribution (or tax) on graduation once their income exceeds £21k. This perception, right or wrong, is a major concern for industry as it is likely to deter some potential students from taking up degree programmes.
We must act
If we want to ensure we continue to attract bright young talent into civil engineering we must act to distil this fear.
There is much that can be done by improving our engagement with universities, ensuring that degree programmes are properly resourced both financially and through industry input into course frameworks, to deliver the graduates we need. This would in turn promote employability and serve as an assurance to students that a civil engineering degree is a solid investment in a good career.
There are many opportunities for industry to get involved in the formation of the young civil engineer - through scholarships, placements, apprenticeships and workplace education. Although we are already doing well, the ICE would like to see UK companies more proactively engaging with the next generation of the workforce, developing more company education schemes and driving forward an environment that encourages professional development at all levels, in recognition of the many different paths civil engineers take.
Meeting skill requirement
Further, through the accreditation process, industry can ensure that graduates have the skills it needs. The ICE, with IStructE, CIHT and IHE all ensure through the Joint Board of Moderators that there is an employer voice in the accreditation process, and the activities of university industrial advisory boards are encouraged.
This must continue to be a strong mechanism for ensuring graduates are equipped to enter the workforce and be prepared not only to hit the ground running but to add value.
Thus the student riots can be seen as a signal for industry to take the lead in helping students and universities create a partnership that delivers impact with excellence.
As an industry we are already doing some great work to ensure we have a strong workforce to deliver on the challenges of the near future. This is an opportunity to extend that.
In light of the ongoing student fees issues however we must work harder to ensure that students also understand and recognise the support that is available to them and see a career in civil engineering as a very good return on investment.
- Barry Clarke is vice president of the ICE’s Learned Society