Rewriting the Approach to Engineering Education: UK’s first “Faculty on the Factory Floor”

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With more compatibility between competences of higher education graduates and industry requirements in the agenda of policy makers, most HEIs are taking a step to better align their educational offerings to the needs of the industry and the community at large. Although several higher learning institutions are in this path of fine-tuning their programs, the collaboration between Coventry University and Unipart Manufacturing Group (UMG), has taken educational cooperation to a whole different level. Through the UK’s first “Faculty on the Factory Floor”, which is both an actual production site and a learning environment; the initiative is redefining the approach to engineering education. The vision of the partners is to empower UK’s manufacturing sector by creating work-ready graduates with substantial industrial experience.

The formation of the hub

The concept of “Faculty on the Factory Floor” is put into practice through the joint establishment of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME) by Coventry University and the Unipart Manufacturing Group. AME was formed against the backdrop of bridging the skills gap in the UK manufacturing sector, which can be considered as the backbone of the country’s economy employing well over 5 million workers. Discussions between the two partners started in early 2013 with the common vision of creating a research-intensive facility that can be used not only for research and technology development but also as a vibrant learning facility for developing future engineers. The idea was then translated into a proposal and submitted to the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE), which provided the project its initial funding. AME became a fully functional facility of education, research and business as of November, 2014.

Core activities of the hub

The activities within AME are driven by the core objectives of the institute e.g. providing teaching & skills, research & development, and business engagement.

To begin with teaching and skills, AME provides both bachelor (BEng in Manufacturing Engineering) and masters (MSc in Production Engineering) level programs. While courses are primarily offered by Coventry University professors in accordance with the university legislation, students gain a unique opportunity to participate in the “live production” projects being undertaken at the AME shop floors. In this regard, it is important to note that a systematic approach is followed, with the course coordinator engaging in continuous dialogue with the Unipart management/production team, and the specific projects within, in order to find a project that fits with the specific learning outcomes of students. This process of matching could take as long as three months. The three-year BEng study program, for instance gives students the opportunity to work on at least six capstone projects in addition to internships that last for three months.

In terms of research, the institute supports cutting-edge academic enquiry that has a potential to contribute both to the major objective of world-class teaching and the development of new technology. Once again a very structured approach is followed to secure external research funding. Particularly, by using a “Project Hopper”, which is a list of project ideas that are continuously refined to meet various national and international funding calls, the institute is successfully diversifying its funding base. Lastly, by building on the mentioned objectives the institute puts efforts to actively engage with other businesses in the region. Particularly, the institute assists businesses in terms of technology development, continuing professional development courses and specialist consultancy.

Success stories

The partnership has several success stories. For instance, one of the projects on lightweight exhaust system has resulted in a substantial improvement of both size and quality. The innovation is already implemented in new vehicles starting from 2016. Similarly, the project on “fuel rail” has produced a more efficient design that created over 50 brand new jobs in the region. Moreover, the institute has successfully attracted grants from major funding agencies such as HEFCE, Innovate UK, Aston Martin, and Ford. In recognition of its innovative approach to engineering education, as well the regional impact it is having through its projects, Coventry University has been honoured as the winner of The Guardian’s “Business partnership” award in 2016.

The blog is based on the article by Antariksh Akhave, Steve Jones, Ian Wilson and Carl Perrin originally published in UIIN Good Practice Series 2016 – Fostering University-Industry relationships, Entrepreneurial Universities and Collaborative Innovation. 

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