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Infrastructure blog

‘Mixed’ news from the Perkins Review: revisited

07 February 2019

Andrew Stanley, Head of ICE Education Policy, provides further insight into the progress made since the original education and skills report.

‘Mixed’ news from the Perkins Review: revisited
The new report praised campaigns such as Tomorrow's Engineers.

Back in 2013, Professor John Perkins, then Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, published his report on the state of engineering education and training, and the skills shortage in the United Kingdom. Unusually for a report such as this, the Perkins Review has been cited and quoted ever since.

Fast forward to the summer of 2018, and John Perkins, with the support of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), gathered a group of us from the engineering community to produce Engineering skills for the future – The 2013 Perkins Review revisited, a unique opportunity to look at progress made on the original recommendations and maintain momentum.

Working through the summer and autumn to produce the drafts, the report was pulled together in December and launched at the House of Lords last week (Jan 30) with an upbeat address from Professor Juergen Maier, Chief Executive of Siemens.

Progress has very much been a matter of good news and mixed news.

The good news

Starting with the good news. The support given to the Tomorrow’s Engineers employer engagement programme, the work of the Careers and Enterprise Company connecting schools and colleges with employers, and the Royal Academy’s This is Engineering campaign launched in 2018, the Year of Engineering, have all maintained the focus on engineering skills.

Also, and almost simultaneously, the government has announced a measured and pragmatic strategy to recruit and retain teachers, addressing one of the review’s main recommendations to address the shortages of maths, physics and design technology subject specialists.

The ‘mixed’ news

The picture for the further education and skills sector, which ICE, EEF (The manufacturers’ organisation) and CIPHE (Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering) drafted, has been more mixed.

There are welcome moves to develop a coherent and ambitious technical education offer through the new T Levels (The Construction: Design, Surveying and Planning route, encompassing civil engineering, starts in 2020 in England only).

However, there are concerns about whether the funding mechanism for post-16 education will be enough to pay for engineering programmes, and whether Wales and Northern Ireland will align with the emerging English system.

Apprenticeship and post-16 academic recommendations

The apprenticeship levy – which employers with a pay bill of over £3m a year must pay - has also had a mixed reception from employers.

The report recommends relaxing the restriction on levy spending so that employers can also use the funds for upskilling and reskilling their workforces.

The report also recommends a major review of the post-16 academic pathway.

Although maths is now the most popular A Level subject, the numbers taking A Level Maths and Physics have plateaued, while the EBacc performance measure has resulted in far fewer students taking Design and Arts subjects at GCSE.

The review recommends a broader and more balanced curriculum at 16+, enabling young people to study maths, science and technology along with arts and humanities.

The Brexit shadow

While speakers at the launch were optimistic and ready to push forward, it was impossible to ignore the shadow cast by Brexit.

With 124,000 engineers required every year to 2024, and construction reliant on EU workers, the need to push apprenticeships to grow our own workforce, and develop a pragmatic migration policy are vital.

Thirty percent of civil engineering students graduating from UK universities are from overseas, for example, and represent a resource that should not be wasted.

The review stresses the necessity for UK universities to be attractive to both international students and staff, if they’re to retain their world-leading status.

  • Andrew Stanley, head of education policy at Institution of Civil Engineers