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Press Release - 11 December 2006

New course set up to fill engineering gap

A new course that aims to produce students with the combined mechanical and electrical engineering skills that employers badly need will be run from next year at the University of Bath.

The Integrated Mechanical & Electrical Engineering degree is being sponsored by firms including Rolls-Royce, BMT Defence Systems and BAe Systems as a way of meeting a chronic skills shortage in industry.

Traditionally, universities in the UK have taught electrical and mechanical engineering separately or with a small number of modules that combine the two. This can often produce students who may be proficient in one area of engineering but largely ignorant in another.

Employers often want all-rounders because when they design products they know it is more efficient to consider the mechanical and electrical aspects of design together from the beginning.

The new degree, which was approved by the University of Bath’s Senate recently, will mean that next October around 20 students will begin the four-year MEng course, with an optional extra year on placement in industry.

It is a joint programme of the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Electronic & Electrical Engineering and the Director of Studies is Professor Raj Aggarwal. It will be managed by a joint committee reporting to the Faculty of Engineering & Design.

The programme aims to teach both mechanical and electrical engineering without sacrificing the intellectual rigour of a single-discipline programme. The course’s first two years combine the core engineering sciences of mechanics, materials, and electrical and electronic systems, and in years three and four further core subjects and chosen options are studied in depth.

The programme will develop technical and managerial team-working skills, and students will study applications beyond the boundaries of traditional mechanical and electrical engineering. Industrial sponsorships and bursaries are also available.

Industry’s commitment to tackle the skills shortage can be seen from the extensive support the programme has. Sponsors include: Rolls Royce, BAE systems, Qinetiq, Reed Hycalog, Molins, Siemens and BMT Defence Systems.

The programme has won acclaim from industry. Malcolm Taylor, director of ReedHycalog, manufacturer of drill parts, said: “I strongly support the programme – I believe that the growing complexity of engineering systems cannot be covered by a single engineering discipline.”

The degree was developed by a group of industrialists and academics chaired by Professor Alan Bramley, in the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. He said: “The concept is to bind the two disciplines together as soon as possible in the degree.

“Teaching engineering as a whole to students is something that is done on the continent, but not here in Britain – here they are either taught the different areas of engineering completely separately or, where there are joint courses, these just mix modules from the various engineering degrees.

“A unique feature of this new degree is that by the third or fourth years all of the course work is on modules in which both electrical and mechanically engineering are taught at the same time, which breaks down the barriers in the way that students think.

“Factories and laboratories today require graduates to join multi-functional teams when developing complex projects – graduates trained to work across engineering disciplines are best suited to this.”

Areas that will be taught include hybrid electric and petrol system for cars, robotics and medical and biological systems.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has already said that more integrated teaching is essential. “The reality of today’s workplace is that employers (particularly the larger ones) expect graduates to join multi-functional teams engaged in the development of complex system projects, for which graduates of traditional mono-discipline degree courses might feel ill prepared,” it has said in a statement.

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