The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology has been granted new degree awarding powers by the Office for Students, the first UK provider to be granted the right to award its own degrees via this route. The Dyson Institute uses an innovative teaching model in their programme, which seeks to ensure their graduates have the skills the engineering sector needs in the future.
Started in 2017 following a conversation between the technology firm’s owner James Dyson and the then Universities Minister Jo Johnson, the programme takes advantage of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 which allowed brand new providers to apply for the right to award their own degrees, based on credible plans, with no prior experience of delivering higher education required.
The first cohort of students joined in September 2017 onto a BEng in Engineering developed in partnership between Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick, and The Dyson Institute. There is an industry need for engineers with a multidisciplinary grounding. Dyson is no exception, with the company looking for graduates who can apply their knowledge across different engineering disciplines. The Dyson Institute caters to this industry need through a programme in which students spend over half their time in the workplace, reinforcing their theoretical learning.
Bob Tricklebank, Head of Engineering Programme at The Institute says this approach is extremely beneficial to their students: “I remember doing my engineering degree and learning things but thinking ‘when am I ever going to use this?’. It was only years later, when in work, that you apply it and realise that is what it’s for.
“We therefore developed a model which allows our Undergraduate Engineers to apply their classroom learning to a practical situation. They spend two days a week in academic study and three days in work, rotating around the mechanical, electrical and software departments. Unusually, compared to other degree apprenticeship programmes, both the workplace learning and the academic delivery all take place on the same site – there’s no requirement for Undergraduates to be released to study elsewhere.
“We’ve found that there is also a benefit for our engineers, who end up having to reflect on their own learning when answering questions from the students, so there is an element of reverse mentoring which can only be a positive thing for the sector.”
The Dyson Institute also focuses on developing their students’ ‘softer’ skills such as communication and resilience, through a professional development framework, including timetabled professional development days.
“The development days are not optional, so the skills are inextricably linked to the curriculum. Our professional development team look to instil skills like resilience and determination, and during the summer there is a focus on skills such as communication.
“The goal is to develop graduates who not only have the theoretical knowledge, but the experience and ability to apply that to the real world and be successful in the workplace. Although we hope that many of our graduating students will choose to stay and work for Dyson, there is no tie requiring them to do that; we are developing graduates for the entire sector.”
There are challenges to the model, however, with Bob admitting that their students are ‘treated as employees’ and can struggle to meet assessment deadlines as a result.
“The students are treated as employees when in the business side, but then they do get paid for their time. The schedule does cause issues around academic assessment deadlines, but it obliges them to be organised at all times and manage their time well. We do our best to support that through our professional development activities, as well as very proactive and bespoke student support.
“The students at the Dyson Institute are all passionate engineers who want to work on real projects straight away, and the programme’s structure should ensure high retention rates as student motivation is constantly being reinforced by seeing their work become reality.”
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