Higher Education: Fall in for an engineering degree: Armed forces cutbacks are releasing trained personnel on to Civvy Street. Christopher Bellamy reports on how they are being turned into graduates

THREE redundant servicemen are embarking on the final stage of an operation which should earn them electrical engineering degrees with just one year's full-time university study.

'There's a huge national asset there - they spend a fortune training these people' said Sean Smedley, project manager of the new scheme at University College, London. 'If for the sake of an academic year - in fact it's only nine months - we can turn them into graduates, it's got to be good for the country.'

UCL has responded to the growing trend towards accelerated degrees for people with relevant qualifications and experience, and to large numbers of highly trained personnel entering the civilian jobs market as a result of cuts to the armed forces by pioneering the 'work-based learning project'.

The scheme has targeted the cream of the services' technical specialists - Army warrant officers and Naval artificers in their thirties. They receive academic credit for the training and expertise they gained in the forces.

They spend a year 'distance learning' - revising and covering material not learnt as part of their service qualifications. They receive credit exempting them from first-year degree work and half of the normal second year, so they have to sit four out of the eight second-year exams. Two of them - in mathematics and electromagnetics - are compulsory, chosen as academically rigorous. 'They're tough - very mathematical', said Mr Smedley. For the optional subjects, this year's candidates chose telecommunications and microprocessors.

If they pass, students then attend UCL for a normal third year leading to a BEng(Honours) degree. Three of the first four candidates - two from the Navy and one from the Army - reached the standard, and are now beginning the final, full-time year, living in a hall of residence with students perhaps 15 years younger than them. In the third year they take six subjects, all optional, and complete a project. One student said he might explore ways of sending fax data over the radio.

The project is funded by the Department of Employment, which supports a number of schemes at British universities attracting students who are different from the traditional 18-year-old entrant with A-levels. 'Most of these contracts are at the 'new' universities', said Mr Smedley. 'UCL is probably the only 'traditional' university doing this.'

UCL's departments of Academic Enterprise and Continuing Education made a bid for Department of Employment funding. Mr Smedley and Chris Pitt, professor of electrical engineering, then visited the Army's School of Electrical Engineering at Arborfield, Berkshire and the Navy's schools at HMS Sultan and Collingwood, near Portsmouth, to assess what academic level Army and Navy technicians had reached. It was broadly equivalent to an HND.

An added attraction, Mr Smedley said, was that the forces kept detailed records of all the courses the men had attended and the qualifications gained.

UCL puts about 60 students through its electrical engineering degree each year, so 10 service students was the maximum if the balance on the course was not to be upset.

Twenty to 30 servicemen were interest in the scheme and were all interviewed. Eight were selected; four chose not to join the scheme because they found jobs. The remaining four began the 'distance learning' year. One did not pass the four exams and rather than retake them, joined a similar scheme at Portsmouth University taking two years.

The original idea envisaged service personnel taking a year out at UCL to complete the degree and then returning to their service careers armed with degrees, but all this year's candidates took voluntary redundancy from the forces.

'We thought it might be attractive to the services only to lose someone for a year,' said Mr Smedley. 'In fact they're all in their thirties, with families, so they can't really afford more than a year out of employment anyway.'

Terry Norman, 36, was a Foreman of Signals - a Warrant Officer in the Royal Corps of Signals - specialising in satellite communications. He learnt about the scheme only last December while still serving as second-in-command of the Nato satellite terminal at Balado Bridge, north of Edinburgh.

Terry left the Army at the end of August. He had completed an HND at the Army School of Signals, Blandford, Dorset. 'It's a traditional HND, very academic. That stood me in very good stead for the first year work,' he said. 'The practical experience as well helped me make sense of the theory I'd learnt, so it wasn't a daunting jump to the degree work.'

But, from November to July? 'It was a pretty steep curve. It's been a bit of a struggle. I was delighted when I passed the second-year exams. But now I've got nine months on a level playing field with everyone else.'

Terry has two children: Colette, aged 17, and Toby, aged 14. After graduation he would like to work in telecommunications. 'I see great opportunities in the future with the development of cable communications,' he said.

The other successful candidates were Trevor Pratt, a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, specialising in ship inspection, and Perry Reid, also a CPO, who worked in submarines.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Administrator - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Finance Admin...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine