Fellows with a common goal

18th January 2008 at 00:00

The broadcaster Maggie Philbin spoke up for the importance of engineering as she congratulated lecturers taking part in a scheme to update their industry knowledge.

Ms Philbin was a presenter of the Tomorrow's World science programme, which once enthused the nation with information about how science was going to change our lives - some of its predictions proving more accurate than others.

The show was scrapped in 2003 after failing to reverse falling viewing figures and Ms Philbin believes its demise is not entirely unconnected with a decline in enthusiasm for technology and the engineers behind it.

Ms Philbin told FE Focus: "There used to be names such as Clive Sinclair, and people associated products with their creators personally.

"You get teenagers with pockets crammed with gadgets, willing to knife each other to get hold of them. But they don't make that jump and think they could be creating the next one.

"They don't stop and think, `I like this gadget and this technology could be my job.'

"If there was anything that closed down Tomorrow's World, it was that complacency. People have ceased to be surprised by new technology."

She spoke at the New Engineering Foundation's award ceremony for the latest batch of engineering lecturers who have completed its fellowship scheme by undertaking secondments in industry to update their knowledge of the businesses in which their students can expect to work.

As well as supporting lecturers and creating placements through its links with businesses, the foundation provides funding so that colleges can afford to release teaching staff on secondment.

Ms Philbin added: "I was really impressed with their work. What they were doing was making a difference - and quite swiftly, it seemed to me - with a knock-on effect on the way they teach.

"You hear lots of people whining and finger-pointing, then when you go to a college and see how much these people do and how busy they are, you realise you can't keep blaming them. They need the time to do these things."

JCB, maker of the famous giant yellow digger, was among the companies at the event which praised the effectiveness of British lecturers. JCB, while a worldwide business, still retains a strong manufacturing presence in the UK and is an advocate of the work of the foundation, which is run by industrialist and academic Professor Sa'ad Medhat.

Lecturer Rose Papworth was presented with the "HE in FE" teaching award for her level 4 (first year degree equivalent) work at Hull College. And fellowship certificates were presented to 49 lecturers who had completed the programme.

An Ulster scheme run by the Learning and Skills Development Agency Northern Ireland has placed 250 lecturers for industry secondments, but such schemes are yet to become as common in FE as in universities, where "knowledge transfer" arrangements with companies are seen as essential.

A report last year by Lord Sainsbury, the former science and innovation minister, said colleges and businesses should do more to share their expertise, including providing consultancy services to each other. This is a principle that the NEF supports.

The foundation began subsidising colleges to provide industry placements for lecturers in 2005, after spotting that lecturers themselves wanted more workplace experience.

With all lecturers to be given an entitlement of 30 hours' continuing professional development a year, demand for placements is expected to increase.

As NEF fellows, the lecturers will be entitled to membership of the Institute for Engineering and Technology, giving them the same professional status as their colleagues in industry.

Like the Northern Ireland scheme, the foundation's activities are supported by the University and College Union.

Comment, page 4.

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