Academia is failing to instil a spirit of innovation among engineering graduates which in the long-term is hampering the UK’s ability to take good ideas and turn them into commercial products. That is the conclusion of a report published by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The report, Educating Engineers to Drive the Innovation Economy, makes two main recommendations to equip students better to innovate. It suggests that undergraduate courses should challenge students to address real-life issues, allowing them to consider exploiting novel technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells. And it calls on devolved governments to provide additional support to engineering as a strategically important subject.
Dr David Grant, vice-president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The UK is home to some of the very best designers and engineers. However, an incomplete understanding or application of innovation processes means that many of their good ideas will go no further than the drawing board or the computer screen. The UK has a history of producing groundbreaking inventions but often not fully exploiting the markets for them.
“To transform the economy we need more radical innovation – the kind of change that creates a new ‘state of the art’. Much of this capability rests on the way our future innovators are being taught.”
The academy said that engineering students should routinely work with other students, for example of management, science and social science, to enable them to understand the broad context for the innovative application of technical skills.
The benefits of this approach can be seen at Georgia Tech in the US, which has developed a two-year programme called TI:GER to help doctoral students to move breakthrough research to market.
The engineering students collaborate with others studying for MBAs and law degrees to consider the technical, business and legal factors that will influence the potential market for their research.
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