With the government’s new MSc funding system set to make access to postgraduate education easier, what more can industry do to tackle the impending skills shortage?
In December 2014, chancellor George Osborne announced a new student funding system that promised to “revolutionise” access to postgraduate university courses.
The announcement in the Autumn Statement revealed that £50M has been allocated for match-funding for students undertaking taught postgraduate courses in 2015/16. This funding will provide a bridge to the introduction of student loans worth up to £10,000 which will be made available from the 2016/17 academic year. The income-contingent loans will be available to students under the age of 30 and will be paid concurrently with undergraduate loans.
The government has forecast that the new system will bring an additional 10,000 students into postgraduate education.
Martin Blower, chairman of the Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS), believes the funding will be particularly significant for the geotechnical sector, as the only way of presently obtaining a geotechnical engineering degree is through the MSc route.
“Extending the student loans scheme to include masters degrees will mean that an undergraduate can study civil engineering, at a BEng level, and then continue on to study an MSc in geotechnical engineering, without a break in funding,” explains Blower.
The announcement has also been welcomed by the Ground Forum, which has actively lobbied parliament to provide new funding for taught masters courses since government withdrew finance via the Research Councils more than five years ago.
The Ground Forum’s lobbying was primarily through the Parliamentary & Scientific Committee (P&SC), the oldest of the All Party Parliamentary Groups, resulting in the organisation of a P&SC meeting in February 2012 on the subject ‘Ground Engineering – Why it Matters’. A thematic set of papers on this subject were then published in the parliamentary journal Science in Parliament.
Subsequently, past chairman of the Ground Forum Keith Gabriel met with Peter Hansford, the government’s chief construction adviser, in December 2013 to review the impact the lack of funding for MSc courses has had on the ground engineering sector.
Commenting on the new system, Gabriel says: “The government’s announcement of match-funding for the next academic year and undergraduate-type loans for taught MSc courses thereafter is fantastic news.
“We like to think the Ground Forum’s efforts played some part in this recognition of the importance of these courses to our industry and the nation as a whole. I am sure that the Ground Forum will monitor the roll-out of both schemes and will pass the findings back to government as appropriate.”
While the loans scheme is an important development, it is clear that more needs to be done to produce future generations abundant with skilled geotechnical engineers.
A report published by Atkins last month underlined the imminent skills shortage and looked at the devastating effect on UK infrastructure.
The study, ‘The Skills Deficit: Consequences and opportunities for UK infrastructure’, suggested a lack of engineers, technicians and scientists will lead to infrastructure projects in the UK experiencing higher costs, delays or poor decision making and project delivery in the coming years.
The report, which is a compilation of views from more than 40 industry experts from infrastructure owners, engineering consultancies and contractors, academia and industry bodies, also estimated that government and industry will need to invest £2.5bn in training and development over the next decade.
Atkins CEO, UK and Europe Nick Roberts comments: “There is a multi-billion pound pipeline of infrastructure projects to be delivered over the coming years to meet the needs of a growing population and the evolving way we live and work in the 21st century. However, all these schemes rely on having the people with the right skills available to deliver them.”
The consequence of a skills shortage in the geotechnics sector is even more acute on the other side of the Atlantic. According to a recent article published by Forbes’ education contributor James Marshall Crotty, a lack of experienced professionals in the US has seen more employers considering candidates without a postgraduate qualification in geotechnical engineering.
Crotty says an undergraduate degree in a relevant engineering subject is likely to see you considered for a position that was once the preserve of candidates with an MSc degree in geotechnical engineering and more practical experience under their belt.
While employers in the UK geotechnics sector have yet to turn to these measures, the situation in the US is a cautionary tale.
With an improved student funding system on the horizon, industry must seize the moment and actively highlight geotechnical engineering as a valued career choice and an integral part of the wider construction industry. A key part of this is collaboration between all industry stakeholders.
Roberts adds: “There is a need for industry, academia, government and institutions to work together more closely now to avoid the consequences for the UK’s infrastructure highlighted in the report becoming a reality.”
This call for collaboration between universities and industry is a sentiment shared by Blower. “Employers have a responsibility to forge closer links with universities. We need to spell out what we expect from our graduates in terms of their knowledge and competencies,” he says.
“Thought needs to be given to what should be taught at university and what is subsequently left to the employer to train.
“So, if you employ graduates, link up with those institutions offering the geotechnical engineering MSc and, by being more active, contribute to making the course as relevant to future employment as possible.”
|Cardiff University||MSc Applied Environmental Geology||This course aims to provide the advanced skills appropriate to a career with geo-engingeering and geo-environmental consultancies, regulatory authorities and government agencies. The taught component includes significant contributions from industry collaborators.||Peter Brabham|
Tel: 02920 874334
|Imperial College London||MSc Soil Mechanics; MSc Soil Mechanics and Engineering Seismology; MSc Soil Mechanics and Environmental Geotechnics; MSc Soil Mechanics and Sustainable Development; and MSc Soil Mechanics and Business Management||This course can be undertaken on a part-time basis and bursaries are available through industry partnerships for UK-based students. Students can choose to study soil mechanics as a single subject or combine their studies with a second subject.||Jamie Standing,|
|Lancaster University||MSc Contamination, Risk Assessment and Remediation||Students will gain scientific, analytic and communication skills to prepare them for remediation work with local authorities, industry, the Environment Agency or consultancy.||Carol Cook|
Tel: 01524 510257
|Newcastle University||MSc Geotechnical Engineering||Full- or part-time study, provides the specialist knowledge required to meet the needs of the construction, environmental and extractive industries. You will learn the principles and application of geotechnical engineering in a range of settings.||Academic secretary|
Tel: 0191 208 6418
|Newcastle University||MSc Engineering Geology||Full- or part-time study, responds to a national and international demand for specialist engineering geologists with advanced training in geotechnical engineering. It provides advanced conceptual understanding, detailed factual knowledge, specialist technical skills and awareness of responsibilities to society and the environment.||Academic secretary|
Tel: 0191 208 6418
|University of Birmingham||MSc/PGDip/PGCert Geotechnical Engineering and Management||Full- or part-time flexible programme delivering high level training; enhancing both the technical and managerial skills of engineers who are either working in, or aspiring to a career in geotechnical engineering. An MSc driven by leading research, active industry links and alumni networks alongside world-class teaching.||Alastair Moyes|
Tel: 0121 414 5089
|University of Birmingham||MSc/PGDip/PGCert Geotechnical Engineering||Full- or part-time flexible programme delivering high level training and enhanced technical skills for engineers who are working in, or aspiring to a career in geotechnical engineering. A master programme informed by leading research, active industry links and alumni network alongside world-class teaching.||Alastair Moyes|
Tel: 0121 414 5089
|University of Dundee||MSc Geotechnical Engineering||The course builds on Dundee’s civil engineering division’s renowned research expertise and industrial experience in current aspects of geotechnical engineering. Fully funded places are available for this full-time, one-year course. Specialist modules include offshore geotechnics and geoenvironmental engineering.||Ian Mackie, course director|
Tel: 01382 384702
|University of Exeter||MSc/PGDip Applied Geotechnics||This course provides specialist knowledge in tunnel, surface and underground excavation design, applied hydrogeology and risk assessment to enable students to work in geotechnics or mining.||Camborne School of Mines|
Tel: 01326 371801
|University of Leeds||MSc Engineering Geology||The course provides training in engineering geology, soil mechanics, foundation engineering, rock mechanics and related topics for geology and civil engineering graduates.||Postgraduate admissions|
Tel: 0113 343 8109
|University of Nottingham||Mres Contaminated Land Management||This unique part-time course is delivered entirely online. Students will gain skills and knowledge of risk-based contaminated land management issues, which can be directly applied in the workplace. The course is taught and supervised by university staff and specialist practitioners. The course is particularly suited to overseas candidates working in contaminated land management and who want to continue working (and earning) while they study for a highly relevant post graduate degree.||Paul Nathanail, course|
Post graduate administrator
|University of Portsmouth||MSc Civil Engineering with Geotechnical Engineering||This course is designed to extend understanding of civil engineering and widen professional scope to include expertise in geotechnical engineering.||Faculty Admissions Centre|
Tel: 023 9284 2555
|University of Portsmouth||MSc Engineering Geology||This course provides students with the advanced skills to carry out detailed investigations into surface and subsurface geology, identification of adverse ground conditions and design of remedial measures.||Science admissions|
Tel: 023 9284 5550
|University of Portsmouth||MSc Environmental Geology and Contamination||This course is designed to provide the expertise needed for dealing with contaminated sites. Students are taught by recognised experts with extensive industry knowledge.||Science admissions|
Tel: 023 9284 5550
|University of Warwick||MSc Tunnelling and Underground Space||Working with the British Tunnelling Society (BTS) and 20% of the teaching is delivered by guest lecturers from industry. The course can be studied full-time, part-time over two years or individual modules as short courses. Bursaries are available through sponsorship from Morgan Sindall, Balfour Beatty and the BTS.||Benoit Jones, course director|
Tel: 024 761 51745