Engineering must remain a rigorous option

Published:  26 January, 2012

Respected qualifications in engineering must remain available to 14 to 16-year-olds in England and should be actively promoted by Government as a rigorous complement to mathematics and science studies - not as a second rate vocational option, the Royal Academy of Engineering has warned.

At a time when the purpose of anything other than the GCSE is being brought into question by Government proposals, the Academy believes there must be a greater supply of young people who can combine STEM knowledge with real practical skills if the UK economy is to keep pace with the rest of the world. It has restated the purpose of engineering studies for 14 to 16-year-olds in order to bring much needed clarity to the debate.

Professor Matthew Harrison, director of education at the Academy said: "The UK is in the business of high added-value, high-technology, sustainable engineering and manufacturing. On top of that, we must maintain capability in a range of vital areas including electricity, gas, nuclear, IT, water and healthcare services.

"All depend on engineering knowledge and skills and all are signalling increasing demand and experiencing a scarcity of supply of suitably qualified young people."

Engineering is an area of great priority for the Coalition Government, which recognises the high value placed on practical engineering qualifications by most successful nations. This fact is recognised by the recent announcement of the £1m Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, which has gained cross-party support.

Matthew Harrison believes the existing qualifications are robust enough to help fill the need for engineers while providing a solid all-round education to those who choose them: "Engineering qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds, such as the 14-19 Diploma in Engineering provide the STEM learning outcomes required for progression to STEM apprenticeship, further education or university along with significant opportunities to design, create, and test engineered products. These engineering qualifications are entirely relevant to pupils who are set to succeed with their academic studies. They are not soft vocational options.

"Engineering is about making things - and its products surround us in our everyday lives. The buildings in which we live and work, the energy and fuels that we consume, the mobile phones, computers, sat-navs and other consumer items that we use, the food that we eat, the water we drink, the transport we ride, the healthcare and sanitation on which we depend, and the entertainment that we enjoy - all these things and more are the products of engineering. We are all immersed in this engineered world, be it as individuals, as businesses or indeed as a society - yet it is so familiar to us, that many don't associate it with the profession of engineering."

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