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What should Universities teach?

Industry's view

A dozen hardy enthusiasts braved the floods and broken rails on 7th November to take part in a workshop at the Institute of Materials on 'Industry's needs from materials graduates'. Dr Caroline Baillie from the UK Centre for Materials Education ran the workshop. The findings from this workshop are summarised below:


As often happens when experts get together to discuss a difficult topic, there were more questions than answers at the end of the workshop. Dominant themes throughout the day were:

  • How can universities satisfy industry's desire for graduates to have a deep understanding of technical content combined with a wide range of non-technical interpersonal skills?

  • How can all of us attract more bright young people into the discipline so that university materials departments (and implicitly the Institute of Materials) stand a chance of surviving the next decade?

  • How can we persuade busy research-focused university staff to spend sufficient time adapting their courses and their teaching and learning techniques to address these concerns?


A number of very powerful suggestions emerged during the day. Several delegates thought that we should present materials science as an intrinsically interesting activity, not just as a route to a job or a fringe part of an engineering team. Do we publicise enough examples of great engineering that depend on materials? Do we stress the environmental aspects of the use of particular materials?

A lot of time was spent discussing the key and transferable skills that are such a feature of government thinking and school education today. Delegates suggested that current university courses perhaps underemphasize initiative, creativity, lateral thinking, team working, time management and critical information skills.

Perhaps universities could help, simply by changing the way in which they deliver their programmes, rather than by changing the content. Why not have team projects, with students from different disciplines combining creatively to solve a problem? What about using peer tutoring or student mentoring to develop the interpersonal skills of both younger and older students? Could some content be taught via case studies rather than the conventional didactic approach?

Issues we should address

The UK Centre for Materials Education will be hosting future workshops that consider some of the important issues raised on the day i.e.:

  • Defining the core materials curriculum so that it forms a proper basis for life long learning without over-filling the academic year with content at the expense of skills development.

  • Stimulating materials scientists in universities and in industry to devote some of their talents to devising resources and exercises which will show the excitement of materials science as well as its rigour.

These ideas are amongst many that the Centre is considering for future workshops in this series. The next such workshop will bring together many of the parties who have a keen interest in attracting young people to Materials as a discipline. These include charitable bodies such as The Armourers and Brasiers, the Institute of Materials itself, Universities with major Materials departments, industries with outreach programmes such as Corus, BNFL and Alcan, etc. Brainstorming and co-ordination among this group should be very fruitful.




  • "Perhaps universities could help, simply by changing the way in which they deliver their programmes, rather than by changing the content."

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