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Tackling skill shortages in food manufacturing

The UK needs more engineers, especially the food manufacturing and agri-tech sectors. Estimates vary, but for future sustainable economic growth it is reckoned that the UK’s engineering employers need to recruit 182,000 people with engineering skills each year; currently there is an annual shortfall of 69,000 advanced technicians and engineers.

Attracting more foreign students is not the answer as currently about half of overseas engineering graduates return to their country of origin. Post Brexit the option of filling gaps by importing talent becomes more challenging.

In 2014/15 some 22,325 UK domiciled students were accepted for degree-level engineering programmes and it is widely considered that this number needs to be at least doubled.

A new specialist engineering university being created in Hereford is a game changing opportunity to address the shortage of UK graduate engineers, boost the economy, increase productivity and deliver innovations that could transform UK higher education.

The New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMiTE) is Britain’s first wholly new university in 40 years; it will teach engineering using a revolutionary approach.

For instance, there will be no traditional lectures, which will be replaced with hands-on learning through practical projects that aim to solve real world problems. Outcomes from these projects will form a portfolio of achievements nthat will replace traditional exams and degree classes. It will produce high caliber work-ready graduates and make engineering a more attractive choice, particularly for female students.

The Liberal Engineering curriculum is an innovative, real world teaching approach that is being developed in close association with engineering employers. Students will be taught engineering topics alongside applied subjects, such as finance, economics, intellectual property and project management, and will receive teaching in small project teams during a three-year condensed degree that includes an industry placement. NMiTE will champion creativity, design and innovation – the key skills that employers now demand in the dynamic and productive modern engineering workplace.

Individually, each element of the NMiTE model has evolved, since 2000, in one of a small number of highly innovative and successful universities around the world. However, NMiTE is the first  to bring together and shape this wide range of tried-and-tested innovations for the UK.

The University of Warwick has been invited to validate degrees and there will be curriculum input from the pioneering Olin College of Engineering, Massachusetts, and Lassonde School of Engineering, Toronto, as well as leading UK engineering employers, such as Arup, BAE, Cargill, Dyson, Heineken, Nestle and Qinetiq.

Opening in 2019 with 300 students in the centre of the City of Hereford, NMiTE aims to grow to 5,000 students over the next 15 years or so. The campus will be designed to compete with universities which attract the most able students in the UK. It will develop across the city centre with seminar rooms, laboratories, studio space and student accommodation in new and refurbished buildings on brownfield sites.

We will seek to educate rather than inculcate our students, an approach that has a proven track record of embedding lifelong learning skills and stimulating and engaging students’creativity.

Different style of teaching

The traditional approach in higher education is that research informs teaching. Our view is that great teaching and its resultant learning is informed and supported by scholarship. Therefore, NMiTE will foster scholarship and reward teaching and will not engage in the Government’s Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Our teaching will be interdisciplinary and problem-based, giving students applied experience while learning. We will seek to educate rather than inculcate our students, an approach that has a proven track record of embedding lifelong learning skills and stimulating and engaging students’ creativity.

Our curriculum design, teaching, and commercialisation research will rely on an intimate collaboration with companies and their staff, who will be invited to provide real-world problems, offer internships and contribute practitioners to guide students through their time at NMiTE. We will teach an Accelerated Masters in Liberal Engineering Degree (AIMLED) programme, enabling students to graduate with an MEng, although a BEng pathway will also be available. The course applies the principles of Creativity, Design and Innovation in a multidisciplinary way to the major engineering disciplines to address challenges of regional, national and global significance through block-structured Project-Based Learning.

This Master’s Degree integrates Bachelor’s degree material and is presented in an accelerated format, requiring just three 46-week years of study including a six month, assessed, industrial placement. It leads to an accredited qualification (recognised by the UK Engineering Council) and registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng). Students will have the option of ‘majoring’ in the engineering of a business sector or one of four global challenges – Feeding the World, Shaping the Future, Living Safely and Living Sustainably.

Many traditional engineering courses are arranged around a ‘linear curriculum’ that first teaches science and mathematics and then moves to engineering. Analysis dominates in this approach, usually at the expense of one of the most important examples of the essence of engineering – Creativity.

Renowned creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson has defined creativity as ‘having ideas of value’, resulting from ‘applied imagination'. Checking out those ideas to be sure that they are feasible, viable and even desirable is a step often described as ‘proof of concept’ and can lead to a patentable invention. But bringing the idea to market, to reality, is referred to as Innovation.

Innovation in our view is a process that calls upon a wide variety of subjects beyond science and mathematics. This includes finance, economics, management, quality, IT, languages, rhetoric, marketing, sociology, ethics, art, facilities, human resources – and, in particular, Design.

All these subjects (and more) contribute to Innovation, a truly eclectic mix. The AIMLED programme will make all these subjects more visible than conventional approaches, and in doing so, will appeal to students with a wider range of backgrounds and experiences. The programme will therefore be, at the same time, a ‘Liberal Engineering’ programme that is ‘liberated’ from the strictures and narrow confines of science and mathematics.

Design has been defined by Sir George Cox, (past Chairman of the Design Council) in his 2006 report as follows: ‘Design is what links Creativity and Innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.’

Design goes way beyond the ‘look’ of something (its ‘form’). In the context of engineering, Design covers design for form, for function, for manufacture, for operation, for reliability, for maintenance and for disposal. Design is not ‘Applied Art’, but is a rigorous discipline with its own defined approaches to achieving specific outcomes. NMiTE's AIMLED programme will adopt a new approach to curriculum structure and delivery that treats engineering education not as the acquisition of a body of knowledge, but as an engagement in the process of engineering, based on Creativity – Design – Innovation.

Next Steps

NMiTE would like to work with more businesses and individuals in the food manufacturing and agri-tech sectors to create programmes that will help grow the talent they need or upskill the talent that they already employ.

David Sheppard, Co-leader, New Model in Technology & Engineering

Email: Phone: 01432 371111

To get involved, please contact us at


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