Posted by: Paraic | August 19, 2008

Engineering in Crisis?

I’ve been reading the Irish Independent’s editorial yesterday on the ‘Crisis in Engineering‘ in Ireland and the thousands of high-skilled jobs for which there’s a scarcity of applicants given the low numbers of graduating engineers.  The articles are using numbers from the School of Computing at Dublin City University where I’m based.

“In Dublin City University in 2005, 224 students graduated with a BSc in computer applications. In 2006, only 92 qualified. Last year, the figure was 78. This year, it has gone down to 70.”

Coincidentally, I’m writing this post from our stand at the COLING conference in Manchester, where CNGL is a bronze sponsor.  We’re here as part of a major recruitment drive as we ramp up our research.  The posters we have here are advertising seven (7) positions for Post-Doctoral Researchers and eighteen (18!) openings for funded PhD Studentships.  (See http://www.cngl.ie/vacancies.html for more details).

[There used to be a B.Sc. degree in Applied Computational Linguistics offered jointly by the School of Computing and the School of Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies at DCU, but that fell victim to low levels of interest.   The last group of students graduated in 2006.]

Our CSET is keenly focused on ‘training’ and graduating PhD students.  It’s one of our metrics, given the government’s goal to double the number of PhDs in Ireland under the National Development Plan.  Chapter 9 of the Plan deals with the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Programme which aligns with the Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation (SSTI).  This strategy calls for:

“Significant increases in the number of new doctoral awards in Science, Technology and Engineering and in Humanities and Social Sciences, from a total of 730 in 2005 to an estimated 1,312 in 2013. This increase will be matched by a sustained improvement in the quality of research output as measured by publications and citations. Each research organisation will also have specific targets in relation to research commercialisation and will be benchmarked against leading international institutions.”

But where are the candidates for Doctoral awards in Science, Technology and Engineering going to come from if we’re not graduating engineers?

In fact, things may be even worse than that….  if we look further back in the pipeline.  News last week was focused on the results of the Leaving Certificate examinations (that determine, based on a system of points administered through a Central Applications Office, young people’s entrance into third level courses).  Concern over poor Maths results and the more than 5,000 pupils who failed maths caught the headlines…

“But the results overall highlight the shallow pool of high achievers in maths. While over 55,000 sat the Leaving Cert, only 6,600 gained an “honour” (Grade C3 or better) in higher-level maths. An honour in maths is the minimum requirement for third-level courses in science and engineering. In practice, this means that tens of thousands of students have already disqualified themselves from third-level courses in science and engineering, despite the priority given by the Government to the knowledge economy.”

If we examine the funnel to consider how many of this year’s leaving cert students might be candidates ultimately for Doctoral awards, we immediately cut out 88% of the field; they don’t qualify for third level courses in science and engineering.  (There are certainly other ways to get to the same end point, but it’s worth looking at the standard case of a straight four-year Bachelors degree in science/engineering).

I’m going to try to do some more digging for numbers to fill out this funnel a little more… like how many graduates from degree courses each year typically consider a post-graduate qualification rather than taking up employment.  I’ll look at how many post-graduate positions we’ve already filled and how many of the successful candidates are new immigrants to Ireland.

Meanwhile (and I’ve been interrupted several times in writing this post) I’ll continue to hand out our recruitment flyers here at COLING and see if we can’t get another 18 candidates into the pipeline for Doctoral awards…

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