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Engineering enrolments are up - but so are drop-outs

01 May, 2001

Engineering enrolments are up - but so are drop-outs

The number of British undergraduates studying engineering has grown by 6% in the past ten years - but their drop-out rate before graduation is higher than that of any other subject. This picture emerges from the Engineering Council`s latest annual Digest of Engineering Statistics.

The study reveals that 15,931 UK students were accepted onto engineering undergraduate degree courses in 1999 - 6% more than a decade earlier - and that they boasted higher average A-level scores than their earlier counterparts.

But the first-year drop-out rate among the 1996-97 intake was 12%, the highest in any subject in the survey. Most drop-out students had relatively low entry qualifications. "If better A-level and other entry requirements were achieved, we might expect a significantly better performance from engineering departments," suggests Engineering Council director-general Malcolm Shirley.

Speaking recently at an industry forum to discuss the challenge of promoting engineering careers to young people, Shirley reported that industry faces severe shortages of important engineering skills, notably in IT and electronics. "Unless we can put the case firmly for engineering as a dynamic and worthwhile career," he added, "we risk yet more young people turning away from engineering to careers in law, media studies or accountancy".

"Schoolchildren" he continued, "seem strangely ambivalent about choosing engineering as a career". The Digest suggests that by the age of 17, some 7.2% of pupils have decided to take up an engineering career, with only finance, medicine and the arts being more popular. A crucial factor in choosing engineering was the presence of a positive role model, typically a father, who already worked as an engineer.

"Part of our dilemma stems from the reluctance of those choosing engineering to admit their choice to classmates - apparently because of engineering`s `negative` image. It`s never been more crucial to work together to counter negative perceptions and to promote the benefits of engineering careers", he said.

Some measures of UK performance in engineering education are more encouraging. Germany is the only EU country to produce more engineering graduates than Britain. And among 20 industrialised nations worldwide, the UK has the second-highest percentage of 24-year-olds with engineering or science degrees.

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