Minister supportive of Engineering Doctorates

(2 May 2014) - The Minister for Universities and Science, the Rt Hon Mr David Willetts MP has responded positively to the Association of Engineering Doctorates (AEngD) when it recently shared its concern about funding for EngD centres. Mr Willetts said:

"The Government recognises that the Engineering Doctorate qualification is an important and distinctive part of the UK’s postgraduate landscape. I have written to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to ask them to continue to work with the Association of Engineering Doctorates to consider the EngD landscape as part of EPSRC’s wider commitments in engineering doctoral training. I would also encourage the Association to continue making its case to the universities, industry and other engineering organisations, to ensure the UK has sufficient supply of engineers with the diverse skills needed to tackle today’s global challenges."

Mr Willetts also told an AEngD delegation on 9 April that he would also be asking for EPSRC clarification on the outcome of the recent call for Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) and whether there had been an impact on the number of EngDs being supported.

The AEngD has welcomed the increasing investment in CDTs announced by the Government in November 2013 and in January and March 2014, and has met with officials of the EPSRC, who remain strongly supportive of the EngD scheme.

However, the AEngD believes EngD programmes were not encouraged by the outcome of recent funding decisions resulting in a smaller number of pure EngD centres from 28 previously funded to 16. The latter figure represent Centres exclusively offering EngDs, and excludes additional centres offering a yet-to-be-determined mix of EngD and PhD. Universities are able to award a mixture of PhDs and EngDs, and the final numbers will depend on the decisions taken by individual universities, students and industry partners.

While supportive of the need for PhD research, the AEngD feels, first, that there is a numerically greater need for EngDs in industry than the need for PhDs, and, second, that EngDs deliver value to industry more quickly – vital if the UK is achieve its competitive aims.

An AEngD delegation led by professors Patrick Godfrey and William Powrie, and including a representative from industry, Tony O'Brien of international engineering consultancy Mott Macdonald, met the Minister in London on 9 April. They presented a document underlining key differences between PhD and EngD research programmes, and argued that the latter – while challenging to maintain – will deliver innovations and the engineering leaders of tomorrow more efficiently than PhD programmes, while remaining as rigorous as PhDs.

Professor Godfrey said:

“The AEngD would like to see funding for doctoral training increased, perhaps by greater use of non-EPSRC funding (reflecting the cross-cutting nature of much EngD research), to encourage further investment. A recent AEngD/EPSRC-funded study shows EngD research:

The AEngD further suggested that selection – and even potential expansion - of EngD centres could be based on evaluation of their competence in delivering industry-driven research, and that research topics be determined by industry need underpinned by their 50 per cent match funding.

Tony O'Brien, responsible for the professional development of some 2,500 engineers at Mott Macdonald, told the Minister of the consultancy's experience:

“We find EngDs are research engineers whose intention is to succeed in professional practice rather than in academia. As such we draw upon a different demographic population to PhD students. The EngD supports the intentions of the 1990 Parnaby report and adds immediate value to industry at a time when we are all working to reverse the decline of engineering industries.”

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Notes for editors

The Association of Engineering Doctorates established its steering group in 2010 and now encompasses almost all of the 28 current EPSRC-designated industrial doctorate centres awarding EngD degrees at UK universities, with industry sponsors, existing EngD research engineers and alumni as associate members. A community engaged in research in engineering and related disciplines, it aims to:

The Engineering Doctorate (EngD) scheme was established by the EPSRC in 1992 (following recommendations of the 1990 Engineering Doctorate Report, produced by a working group chaired by Professor Parnaby).

The first EngD programmes began in 1992, and by 2013 28 schemes were offered by UK universities - either singly or as multi-institution academic partnerships (one further centre awards a DPhil degree).

Research interests embrace all major areas of engineering, manufacturing and related disciplines including:

AEngD delegation to BIS (L-R: Tony O'Brien, William Powrie and Patrick Godfrey, setting off from Institution of Civil Engineers), 8 April 2014.

Left to right: Tony O'Brien (Mott MacDonald), William Powrie (University of Southampton) and Patrick Godfrey (University of Bristol), outside Institution of Civil Engineers in London before meeting Mr Willetts.

The Rt Hon David Willetts MP

Briefing document