The UK has “got it wrong” in its attempts to persuade young people to pursue careers in engineering, according to inventor and billionaire Sir James Dyson. The founder of Dyson told Tes in an interview that he was unsure why there was such a shortage of young engineers coming through the system, but “we have just got it wrong”. “We have forgotten what makes us great,” he said.
In a bid to tackle the shortage, Sir James just has now created the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, which opened last week. But while the name of the institution, based in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, may evoke the government’s enigmatic Institutes of Technology (IoT) project, intended to support engineering and STEM subjects, Dyson was keen to stress that this is very much a university. Indeed, it’s the first new institution to be created under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.
The structure, however, is similar to an apprenticeship. The 33 first-year students will spend one day per week in lectures and another in private study. The remaining three will be spent working in Dyson’s research, design and development team.
As Dyson employees, the students will be earning a salary throughout the four-year degree – starting at £15,500 a year and increasing annually. There is also the prospect of a permanent job on graduation.
The institute was born out of a meeting with universities minister Jo Johnson. “I had gone to complain about there not being enough engineers,” Dyson recalled. “And he said, ‘Stop complaining and set up your own.’ I immediately said yes.
“We take on in excess of 100 new graduates a year and mentor them. If we can take on graduates and mentor them, why couldn’t we take on students?”
'Our own way'
So why did Dyson not simply establish a degree apprenticeship? “We wanted to have our own university and do it in our own particular way,” he said.
Unlike an apprenticeship standard, the Dyson programme was not set by a group of employers, explained director Duncan Piper. “We are not trying to prepare them for a specific job. It is a degree preparing them for engineering more generally. It is very much not an apprenticeship, they will get a degree.”
Applicants were expected to have three A levels, including maths and a science or a technology subject. For the places, the institute received around 900 applications.
This is an edited version of an article in the 22 September edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.