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UK risks overseas 'brain drain' of engineering talent

The UK is in danger of losing its competitive edge in the engineering sector according to a new report by GE in the UK. 

The GE Young Minds Monitor surveyed almost 1,000 lecturers and students of engineering and found contrasting attitudes to the UK’s global standings and future prospects.

A new generation of young engineers, inspired by icons such as Brunel and Dyson, are generally very positive about their prospects in the UK with almost six out of 10 claiming the sector is critical to the UK’s economic prosperity. 

Most believe that engineering technology has a positive image as a career compared with other science disciplines, with a similar number feeling confident they will find a job in the sector when they graduate.

However, lecturers are more concerned for the future competitiveness of the UK, seeing a potential brain drain of engineering talent to faster growing nations. 

Whilst the majority of lecturers feel the UK has a stronger skills base than other countries around the world,only 13% of lecturers feel that the UK has a growing talent pool to draw on and that further investment, funding and support is needed to help the UK keep its place as an engineering force.  

India is currently producing 650,000 engineering graduates a year compared to Britain’s 20,000.  

In order to meet the estimated requirement for 970,000 engineers in Britain by 2017, it is estimated that at least 25,000 new engineering graduates per year are needed.

GE president and UK chief executive officer Mark Elborne said: “There is a new generation of young people choosing engineering as a career – mainly because of the impact they can have on society. 

“These figures demonstrate that both business and government need to continue to support and invest in this new generation, to ensure we nurture and retain such talent.”

The GE study shows that 62% of students and 60% of lecturers think cuts in public spending and rising tuition fees are going to have a negative effect on the numbers of young people choosing to study engineering in the future.

One of the main barriers to more people choosing engineering technology to study or as a career is the perception that it is a predominantly male club. 

Some 68% of students and 65% of lecturers agree that the UK struggles to attract enough women into engineering technology.

Both students and lecturers agree that the key to boosting the UK’s competitiveness is developing a more positive societal attitude regarding the benefits of engineering (86% and 77%) and investment in higher education and vocational training (82% and 64%).

In terms of the UK’s international standings:

  • According to lecturers, the United States is the leading market for career prospects (68%), followed by China (67%), Germany (59%) and India (33%). The UK was placed 5th (31%).
  • According to students the UK offers the best career prospects (68%), followed by USA (66%), Germany (56%), China (46%) and Japan (36%)
  • More than half (56%) of lecturers and four out of 10 students (41%) think the UK is less ambitious than the rest of the world to lead in the field of engineering technology.

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