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EC event for our Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes

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EC event for our Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes

Posted by Moshe Waserman CEng on Jul 9, 2019 5:48 pm

Engineering Council

 

We're running an event for our Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP) consultation - would be great to see a wide range of engineering academics there to discuss all aspects of the next version of AHEP. 10.30am-3pm, Wednesday 24 July at Middlesex University (Hendon) Please email accreditation@engc.org.uk ASAP to register. De Montfort University, Cranfield University, Buckinghamshire New University, Brunel University London, Birmingham City University, Birkbeck, University of London, Aston University, University of Kent, University of Canterbury, Heriot-Watt University, Durham University
Moshe Waserman BEET, MCGI, CEng MBCS, FEDIPAdvPra, MIET.

Re: EC event for our Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Jul 19, 2019 1:44 pm

I have been drawing together my personal response to the Engineering Council consultation. I’m not an academic or currently involved in Academic Accreditation. I have in the past as an employer’s representative instigated and worked in close partnership with Further & Higher Education Institutions. That included the development of an award winning training programme, which was used a model leading to the creation of “Degree Apprenticeships” by the UK government.

I encouraged my academic partners to seek professional engineering institution accreditation and IEng was the best match. This seemed rational at the time, especially being a long-standing IEng myself, but it added little if any value and the institution was mainly interested in advising how to substitute theory for practice to create a “partially CEng accredited superior” version of the degree. Unsurprisingly once exposed to the PEI snobbery, my graduate engineers couldn't see much point in seeking IEng. All have become senior professionals and some are senior managers within a decade.  At the time Engineering Council was espousing a policy that the two type of engineers were “different but equally valuable”, but a subsequent policy change adopted the policy that I have just described.       

Later, when working for The IET, I also made a significant contribution to the Engineering Council “Gateways” work-based  MSc programmes and supported those universities already offering a similar model. At the time when I became involved, this initiative was in danger of stalling because the PEIs couldn’t accredit using the Engineering Council model. We found a way to at least remove the “road block” and one of our best engineering universities even created an "IEng Bachelors version" supported by some leading employers. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if a flexibly delivered MSc was part of the in-career pathway for most engineers instead of cramming all their formal learning into their teens and early twenties?  Isn’t it obvious that an experienced practitioner has much more to bring to a post-graduate degree in engineering than someone with no practical exposure? Unfortunately participation by “mature students” in higher education has been rapidly declining.

The following is my purely personal view and certainly not that of The IET.  Those of a sensitive disposition may not wish to read further.

The wider credibility of Academic Accreditation is being undermined and as the consequences of these proposals pan out among engineers in the workplace over the next few years, it risks being undermined further.  To any reasonable observer, such as parents, employers, HR professionals, managers and even working engineers, the system is grossly over-complicated, impenetrable and unreliable. Perhaps it makes some sense to some of the Academics who have to implement it?  How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Some of the harms being caused by this dysfunctional quagmire include;

•             Universities eschewing degrees designed to deliver a potentially productive engineer, rather than an engineering scientist prepared for further training, because                     the former is “inferior” and may hamper chartered recognition later, negatively affecting the university’s reputation or league table position.
•             Smaller employers who want an immediately modestly productive graduate engineer, getting a “theorist” instead.   
•             Individuals and employers in the context of degree apprenticeships, investing circa £30000+ in good faith in a Bachelors Honours Degree, supervised by the                          Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, only to find that they have the “inferior” version.  However, both individuals and employers, especially with a                          Degree Apprenticeship, might notice that “inferior degree equals superior performance”.  Therefore they will just ignore the system of accreditation as many                            already do, but some element of ridicule is almost inevitable. If someone feels badly disadvantaged  then they might even seek compensation. 

The Draft Learning Outcomes, attempt to divide a couple of years of expensively acquired and appropriately validated academic study into 5 different categories  11,12,13,14 &15 in order of value.  Bachelors Degrees are divided into; A5 A11 version “inferior and usually sub-standard”; A5 A12 version “inferior”; A6 A13 version “superior but sub-standard”; A7 version 14 “superior but only on top of an A13”; A7 version 15 “superior”.  Versions 12 and 13 may be gained in four divisions 1st , 2.1, 2.2 and 3rd  with little consistency between universities and well-documented grade inflation in progress. Versions 14&15 may also have up to three classification grades. The designation “inferior” (IEng) is based on a bias towards “applications” i.e. actual engineering practices, “superior” (CEng) requires a bias towards calculus based science.  

Underlying justification is offered by

1.            Reference to the Sydney and Dublin Accords, which have gained minimal traction in a handful of countries and are virtually unknown in the UK beyond a handful                   of Administrators and Academics.    
2.            A distinction applied to undergraduate students typically with no experience whatsoever and around the age of 21 between; A23.1 Well defined engineering                          problems involve several issues, but with few of these exerting conflicting constraints, and can be solved in standardised ways. A24 2. Broadly-defined                                  engineering problems involve a variety of factors which may impose conflicting constraints, but can be solved by the application of well-proven analysis                                  techniques.  A25 3. Complex engineering problems have no obvious solution and may involve wide-ranging or conflicting technical issues and/or user needs. 
             Obviously to create these distinctions among those with little or no relevant experience, proxies have to be employed, such as assuming that the ability to solve a                 theoretical problem using maths in a classroom, extrapolates into how real complex engineering challenges are resolved by experienced engineers.  

Actually I don’t think that accrediting MEng degrees aligned to the Washington Accord is much of a problem. They tend to set a higher entry tariff and obviously involve a higher cost both in fees and lost earnings opportunity. On that basis market forces will affect demand, including the actions of those employers who target such graduates seeking “the intellectual cream”.  There are issues, especially for those students who have invested heavily but didn’t get picked by the blue chip company assessment centres or “poached” by financial services, but accreditation can’t change that. It is the rest that is a mess! 

My constructive suggestion is.   

A QAA regulated Honours Degree in Engineering or Technology is either suitable for engineers or it isn’t!  The  role of professional bodies should be influence practical relevance and employability, not to inflate more academic elements or create divisive silos. If some universities choose to stretch the most academically talented and prepare them for roles towards the most scientific end of the spectrum, then this is beyond the minimum threshold  for accreditation, which is fine. If other universities take a more vocational approach, then that should also meet the threshold and be equally fine.

I’m aware of the different accreditation for Engineering Technology and Engineering Degrees in North America and some of the politics around it, but in a UK context we didn’t adopt the concept of a Chartered Engineering Technologist. We prefer to use the term “Chartered Engineer” to embrace all of those who reach a terminal threshold of professional practice in Engineering and Technology, benchmarked as being at post-graduate level.

I have proposed a system in which every registrant should first become an “Engineer” benchmarked at Bachelors Degree standard before progressing towards the terminal “Chartered Engineer” standard if they wish to. This is no threat to MEng graduates who should be well placed to make accelerated progress, but it drains the swamp of trying to differentiate between Bachelors graduates using the North American method based on “semesters of Calculus”. There is no good reason why bachelors graduates should not progress on the merits of their in-career performance, including additional academic involvement if practicable and “late developers”, of which there are many, can work towards the same standard.  

I would urge of any gathering of senior academics is to rise above the swamp and to urge Engineering Council to do likewise. I won’t jump into it myself here, but what we have created is a game of Snakes and Ladders in which it isn’t clear whether IEng is a Snake or a Ladder. If you are lucky and play the game in few friendly environments, then it’s a Ladder or at least a neutral square, but in the academic and many other environments it is very clearly a snake.

Is it reasonable for a public body to encourage a system of career recognition to be based virtually on a roll of the dice as a teenager.  In my opinion, no it isn’t - go away and think again please!  If the politics are impossible then put it back to the people (all relevant stakeholders)  not just a limited membership of people of a certain age and character.   


PS Sorry about the formatting of the bullet points - it looks fine in the editing pane.

 

Re: EC event for our Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes

Posted by Moshe Waserman CEng on Jul 22, 2019 6:13 am

As usual Roy, you provide a very informative post.
If I put the differences between Engineering Technology and Engineering aside here in the US we have something like  Legal authority to grant degrees that are granted by the States.
Then there is Institutional Accreditation such as Regional and National - these agencies are like QAA tasked with auditing and for the member institutions that meet the standard award Institutional Accreditation.
Many degrees that lead to occupational licenses or registration in protected professions also include the third level of  Programmatic Accreditation it can be Specialty or Professional Accreditation.
For the purpose of Quality assurance of programs that educate Engineers ABET is the leading organization for Engineering Programs Accreditation. This type of Accreditation is somewhat similar to EC UK licensed PEI such as IET 
accreditation of Engineering programs.
In the ABET not only Academic representation but very important Industry representation that strengthens the program, teams are comprised of Academia, Industry, Government and International representation. 
While the majority of Engineering programs are ABET-accredited there are some that are not.  Graduates of such programs may face limitations on the utility of their degrees.

I don't know the UK system that well but when I compare a QAA regulated Honours Degree in Engineering or Technology  I see a good degree but just like in the example above it's missing the EC UK PEI as IET accreditation. 
Maybe QAA regulation requires or should require IET or similar accreditation of the Engineering program. 



  
 
Moshe Waserman BEET, MCGI, CEng MBCS, FEDIPAdvPra, MIET.

Re: EC event for our Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes

Posted by Peter Miller on Jul 22, 2019 8:21 am


 From the draft of the proposed new version, as I can can see there are no substantive changes from the previous edition. The EC summary of changes document states, inter alia
  1. Greater clarity between IEng and CEng. The requirements for IEng and CEng have been clarified, specifically:

    • -  Differentiating between IEng and CEng, principally at competences A and B (for example, A2 (CEng) emphasises technical complexity and level of risk).

    • -  Closer alignment between the requirements for competence C, recognising that the management/leadership requirements are more similar than they are different.

From my comparison of the documents there is more explanation of the differences in competencies A and B between IEng and CEng. Specifically that IEng is clearly set at a much lower level and more narrowly based than CEng. In terms of competency C, I can't see any difference from the previous version, part from a little reordering of text. From an IEng perspective it looks a bit of a stitch up.

I agree with Roy's viewpoint, but I suspect there will very few changes from the current draft.

Re: EC event for our Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Jul 23, 2019 1:18 pm

Peter,

I focussed on Academic Accreditation having noted that the conference was coming up on Wednesday and copied my earlier post to the Engineering Council e-mail address that Moshe provided. I will post a summary of my comments in response to the overall consultation ASAP.  I should clarify that I’m keen to support Academic Accreditation with PEIs and the IET in particular helping to enable constructive dialogue between its academic and industry partners. Unfortunately the need to divide engineering students into categories as part of their Bachelors Degree creates the “quagmire” that I described.  

If universities, students, employers and prospective employers are clearly informed about the purpose and value of these different accreditations, then they can make informed, rational choices about where to invest, or target recruitment efforts.  It would also help if any research evidence was published of predictive validity, i.e. any correlations between these divisions and subsequent performance as a professional engineer.

In the absence of objective research based evidence for division, there is a subjective or sociological one, such as the "expert opinion", but it seems that the range of influencers has been very narrow,  usually drawn from an incumbent group sharing the same rites of passage, assumptions, myths and prejudices. Other perspectives and evidence that challenges these sometimes almost religious assumptions, mostly around advanced mathematics have been largely ignored.         

You described this as a “stitch up”.  I would simply observe that  the profession has created a need to divide “the best from the rest” for the purposes of who should receive the honour of Chartership. At present we use two overlapping mechanisms to achieve this, Academic Selection as codified by Academic Accreditation divides teenagers and UK-SPEC which can be used “on top of" or “instead of” academic Accreditation, divides Experienced Engineers.  A different blend of overlapping stakeholders effectively control each element, under the Engineering Council “flag”.

Twenty years ago, IEng degrees offered some distinctive territory for the (now defunct) “major” Institution of Incorporated Engineers to accredit.  Had the UK adopted the concept of a Chartered Engineering Technologist then such degrees could have led to that pathway.  The market could perhaps have been “educated” about how the “Technologist’s Degree” was more vocational in nature and the “Engineer’s” one more academic, with the depth of mathematical science being the key difference?  It seems to me unlikely that the market would have become “educated”, because most UK employers of “engineers” just wouldn’t recognise the validity of this division much beyond the age at which it was created. It is a theoretical model creating a binary division within a wide continuum of Engineers, who illustrate many shades of grey.  There are some career pathways in which a more “academic” pre-career preparation can be an advantage and others in which a more “vocational” approach is advantageous. However, in practice most people find a pathway that aligns with their personality and lifestyle preferences. 

Many employers have as I did some years ago, been happy to include an IEng accredited Degree in Apprenticeship Programmes and Teenagers may be investing their money in such degrees without realising the longer-term negative consequences involved. These negative consequences only become tangible once the possibility of potentially becoming a Chartered Engineer arises.  It is common across many professions for “Chartered status” to be awarded to those who have reached a terminal threshold and for suitably accredited graduate engineers to reach that threshold from approximately 4 years into career onwards. Whereas someone of similar age but with the IEng accredited degree, will discover that they are either completely excluded, or have been given a handicap by virtue of their “inferior” degree. Is it rational or “fair” for two engineers of similar age who are demonstrating a similar level of performance, to be divided on the basis of their fluency in mathematics from a number of years earlier?  Since the consequences of the division are to place each engineer into either the “superior” or “inferior” basket, damage may be caused to their reputation and career prospects, or that of the system itself if the division is artificial or socially determined.

I should note that the system is already widely distrusted or at least regarded as an “academic exercise” of limited relevance.  

I propose that to help restore that trust, Bachelors Honours degrees in Engineering should in future be accredited on the basis of producing a an employable Engineer on graduation as their primary aim. This does not obstruct someone pursuing further academic study, academic research of even an academic career.  The “rite of passage” mentality that an engineer must survive a challenging ordeal of advanced mathematics even if they don’t it enjoy it should go.  Although those who thrive on this diet should have the opportunity to do so. Equally those with a different balance of talents, such as engineering as practised should have their opportunity.       

In the context of Degree Accreditation the only meaningful show in town in the UK is Chartered Engineer. Every Accredited Degree should lead there with clarity and without any negative or “sub-standard” connotations if the emphasis is more vocational.  The existing MEng model offers a “premium” pathway , but all Engineers including all accredited graduates should first pass over the same competence based threshold in employment.  If this "Engineer" threshold is afforded proper respect, then it might meet the longer term needs of many engineers, but assuming that someone aspires to Chartered Engineer, they should agree with their PEI an appropriate development plan. Since it is common for engineers to become managerial ,that would be a legitimate option within the plan.    

Critics of what I’m proposing, suggest that such a proposal would “make everyone a Chartered Engineer” and that I’m “lowering the bar”.  On the contrary I’m seeking to raise standards. There is very little scope for “lowering  the bar” anyway without breaching Privy Council requirements. If something is provided for “public benefit” then it should be accessible to anyone meeting the standard, not rationed or obstructed by careful gatekeeping and cunningly placed tripping points. Chartered Engineer should represent what we claim it to be, which is someone of substantial proven performance with post-graduate (level 7) attributes, who is actively engaged with and therefore “under the supervision” of a professional body.  I don’t advocate revoking any “honour” that someone has earned, but there should be a mechanism like voluntary review, to indicate “currency”.   

There are some excellent people who have found IEng the most convenient way to express their professionalism, who deserve no less respect or opportunity to contribute on the basis of their individual talents than anyone else, but their only shared characteristic is “not CEng” for various different reasons.  The era of IEng having a distinctively different identity has passed. The “Chartered Engineer’s Council” has control of the subsidiary forms of professional “qualifications”. Therefore it needs to decide if it wishes to attract more people to registration and if so how. The rationale for and benefits of being a subsidiary registrant aren’t clear. The numbers likely to be involved are highly dependent of the policy of a single multi-division public sector employer with close links to Engineering Council.   

The IET offers a form of accreditation for Technician Training, but I haven’t addressed this here in the context of Academic Accreditation, since anything below Degree level is a very minor sideshow for those involved. City & Guilds is perhaps a more appropriate space?   

 

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