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Quality not quantity

Britain hands out too many BEng civil engineering degrees and the raising of entry standards will lead to a necessary culling of dud courses which do not produce the quality of engineer the profession needs.

This is the view of Engineering Council director of Engineers Regulation Andrew Ramsey. Furthermore, he believes that the profession will soon benefit directly from the kind of engineer produced by IEng courses.

'We understand it is distressing for universities to lose their BEng franchise,' he admits. 'But in the long run, IEng courses will be more valued. They will produce hands on, practical engineers with a good grounding in fundamental civil engineering skills. There is less design work around for the more cerebral, know-how engineer produced by BEng and MEng courses.

'There was wide concern in industry that many BEng graduates from the newer universities were not a patch on people with BEng degrees from the old ones,' he continues. 'We had a chorus of employers saying that they couldn't get the calibre of engineering graduate that they wanted.'

Ramsey accepts that some civil engineering departments will close but argues that it is for the good of the profession.

He says: 'The Higher Education Funding Council for England & Wales has questioned the sense of having quite so many universities offering a BEng, especially as resourcing is so expensive. Out of 3,500 universities in America, there are only 300 schools of engineering. Out of 105 universities in England and Wales nearly every one of those has a school of engineering.'

For universities which showed that they had a high quality BEng course, yet couldn't reach their quota of students with 18 A level points, some discretion would be used, adds Ramsey.

'If universities don't quite manage to reach their targets we are not going to automatically send a policeman round and say you have lost your accreditation.'

Ramsey accepts that IEng courses are still unpopular and predicts that it will take time for them to overhaul the BEng which has been around since 1964.

But Ramsey claims that many universities which have introduced IEng courses this year have been pleasantly surprised by the level of student intake. He says the courses will get stronger once what he regards as a temporary decline in applications to engineering courses is reversed.

'The amount of home students applying to engineering is very stable at just under 2,000 a year,' he claims. 'Engineering, science and maths always attract a lot of overseas applicants. The fall in overseas currencies in the Far East had a very severe impact on applications to civil engineering in the UK.'

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