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No panic over engineer shortage

ENGINEERING in Scottish universities faces a difficult short and medium term future because of a downturn in the number of well- qualified applicants. That is the main conclusion of a report produced for the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals.

Tom Husband, former vice-chancellor of Salford University, who conducted a survey among academics, the professional institutions and employers, says that despite the recruitment problem "it would be a serious misjudgment to conclude that the future is bleak. The Scottish engineering higher education sector is remarkably resilient."

Professor Husband found that as well as fewer students with high entry scores, engineering departments faced a fall-off in applications from the financially hard-hit Far East. But he warns the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council not to make "hasty, short-term decisions" to reduce funding. There should be incentives for universities to restructure their courses and avoid duplication in the sector.

The "looming" problems might lead to a "premier league" of research-driven elitist departments with the remainder taking on routine teaching and training. That should be avoided, Professor Husband says. Departments enrolling students with low qualifications regularly produce graduates who are sought after by employers. "There is some genuine added value going on inside these departments."

Professor Husband says that universities should look to new opportunities from Advanced Highers especially in relation to electronics, manufacturing and mechatronics. There could be scope for a new structure of engineering degrees as a result.

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