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Universities face design teaching crisis

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DESIGN TEACHING in universities will be in crisis within five years because the number of lecturers with practical design skills is shrinking, the ICE Structures and Building Board (SBB) warned last week.

The SBB asked all universities offering accredited civil engineering degrees in January this year whether they felt engineering design was being adequately taught.

'Most universities said that in the next fi ve years they would be short of design teaching staff, ' said SBB vice chairman Ben Barr.

He blamed this on the fact that universities are geared around attracting research academics, not practical people.

A quarter of respondents said they were focused more on research than teaching as this work generated funding.

As a result they often lack tutors with practical design expertise.

The shortfall in design staff is currently being filled with visiting professors from industry, who are paid nominal fees. But Barr said consultants regarded it as unfair to offload the burden of teaching these skills on to them.

CE vice president and Jacobs Babtie managing director Gordon Masterton warned that such people cannot give teaching top priority because of work commitments.

Atkins director Bob Haywood said that teaching graduates design was already a 'huge strain on resources'.

'It's the 35 to 45 year olds who are in the thick of design who should be mentoring the graduates, but they are also the group missing because so many of them went into accountancy or IT, ' he said.

He added that this put 'enormous pressure' on more senior staff to mentor graduates instead of spending time managing projects.

HR Wallingford coastal structures director and Southampton University visiting professor William Allsop said that more formal financial arrangements were needed to sustain industry's contribution to university degrees.

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