New university aims to attract women into engineering

It will be first newly built university for three decades

Plans for the UK’s first newly built university for three decades will be unveiled today – specialising in engineering and aiming for women to comprise half of all its students and teaching staff.

The private but not-for-profit New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMITE) aims to attract 5,000 students when it is fully operational.

The new university will model itself on the Olin College of Engineering in the US city of Boston, and aims to be the first higher education institution in the country to match the American college’s unique record of achieving equal numbers of men and women among both lecturers and students.

Karen Usher, from NMITE, said Olin had been “incredibly successful” in recruiting women, and they may be open to taking on applicants without the usual mathematical qualifications to address the traditional gender imbalance.

“We aim to find out what might be putting women off applying for engineering courses,” she said. “For instance, what’s to stop someone with A-levels in history, English and philosophy deciding to switch to engineering?”

The new university is being backed by two members of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the most selective higher education institutions in the country. The universities of Bristol and Warwick will convey degrees upon students who attend NMITE until it gains approval for degree awarding powers itself. Applications will open next year, recruiting 300 students to its headquarters in Hereford to start their courses in September 2017. It will charge fees of £9,000 a year – in line with its two supporting universities.

The decision to site the university in Herefordshire comes as a result of the county being reliant on engineering industry to provide employment – the  elite army squad, the SAS is based nearby and gets equipment supplied by local firms. However, the county – which also has the lowest average wages in the country – has gained a reputation for fostering a “brain drain”.

“Every year approximately 1,800 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 leave the county for higher education or better paying jobs – 60 per cent of these do not return,” says the university in its mission statement. “Over time this has left the county with a significant missing generation of economically viable citizens.”

The university will adopt a new approach to teaching engineering at degree level. The first year of the course will be devoted to a general engineering course, to give students the necessary background in the subject.

Then they will choose a speciality from four options, and will also undergo six-month internships which could lead to employers sponsoring those who have shone during their work experience for the rest of their course.

“At the end of the second year after your internship, you will specialise more and more,” said Ms Usher. “You might find an internship where you are really liked and they sponsor you and bring in specialised courses for their requirements.”