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University fee proposals threaten MEng courses

BIG RISES in the cost of going to university will spell the end of four year MEng civil engineering degrees, academics warned this week.

Government plans to set higher student fees or a graduate tax will see students abandon the four year degree in droves and revert to the three year BEng degree, civil engineering heads of department told NCE.

'Four year degrees face a real threat, ' said University College London head of civil engineering Jim Croll. 'It would be a huge deterrent if fees were raised on a pay per year basis.'

Students reverting to a three year BEng would need to bring their degree up to the standard demanded by the Engineering Council (UK) for a chartered engineer with a 'matching section', equivalent to one year's further study. Universities warned that students would be most likely to graduate after three years and then look to achieve their matching sections through company training schemes.

'What you could see is pressure for students to graduate with a BEng - saving them one year of fees - with them then trying to get a matching section paid for by their employer, ' said Association of Civil Engineering Departments chairman Ian Whyte.

But there is concern that only the bigger employers would be able to fund matching sections for their graduate intake. Other graduates will be faced with a stark choice of paying upwards of £35,000 for a fully taught university based matching section, or going it alone via a distance learning course.

'Very few graduates will do a university based matching section faced with £10,000 fees, £5,000 living costs, and forgoing an £18-20,000 salary, ' said Arup director Richard Haryott.

'But the vast majority of bright young things will work for small to medium firms and will have to do a matching section in a self guided way, ' he added.

Haryott, who is also Institution of Civil Engineers vice president for professional development, is chairing a working group to provide clear policy and procedures on matching sections by the end of the year (NCE 14 November).

The government will release a White Paper on higher education funding early in the new year which is expected to include plans for higher student fees.

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