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James Dyson's Engineering School vs Bath University?

I don't understand why James Dyson wants to build a school of engineering in Bath. Bath University already has an excellent school of engineering. let's read an invitation from the University written to attract new students:

Welcome to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath

The University of Bath has an enviable history of excellence in Mechanical Engineering Education and Research. The University has been placed at the highest possible level for its quality by the Quality Assurance Agency  which has confirmed that broad confidence (the highest quality level) can be placed in the soundness of its programmes and the academic standards of its awards.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering is graded as a double 5A* for its research, the highest grade possible. This, together with its state of the art laboratories and computing facilities, means that it is one of the top Mechanical Engineering Departments in the UK. Our excellent links with industry ensure that our teaching and undergraduate project activities are industrially relevant and our students can further enhance their experience by undertaking a placement in industry. All of these factors help ensure a high demand for our graduates.

We trust that any questions you have about the programmes will be answered in the following links and associated documents. Should you have any other queries, please do not hesitate to contact us, we are always willing to help you.

Professor Paul G Maropoulos, CEng FIMechE

(Head of Department of Mechanical Engineering ) Not only mechanical engineering

Bath University can obviously provide a first class education for anyone who wants to pursue a career in Engineering. One wonders what James Dyson has in mind for his school of engineering. Is he going to poach students from Bath University? Who is going to teach in his school? How does this aging man think that he can provide continuing inspiration for a new centre of excellence? And, he doesn't seem to realise that he is proposing to build his school of engineering in a flood plain, some engineer; any sensible designer would build on a hill. Or is building in the flood plain the cheap option?

There are also other benefits for studying for a degree in a University like Bath: the option to work with other faculties for one. Rather than educate would be engineers in isolation Bath University offers the option to combine engineering with, for example, business studies or medicine.  Or have I missed something? Is the Dyson school of Engineering going to interact with Bath University?

James Dyson doesn't even have a conventional education in engineering, moving from Furniture and Interior Design to Engineering at the Royal College of Art. Nothing wrong with that, but then why does he want to restrict students to engineering? He obviously has talent and the money to get the school going, but that is not enough to warrant supporting  his desire to open a school of engineering in Bath. It all seems rather personal.  And as for being concerned about British engineering design and its possible contribution to the British economy- he has moved production of his vacuum cleaners to the Far East.

Further Investigation

On further investigation, which I might be criticised for not carry out before, for which my excuse is I was not aware of the nature of the project as reported in the press, the Dyson school, is just that a school. A school that teaches just one subject. It will not be in competition with Bath University. Unfortunately, the project still does not make economic or educational sense. As a school it can only accommodate children from B&NES and if permitted the local area - as children will be living at home. It will also restrict students to those who live in B&NES as that is the local educational authority. And those children who live in Conservative Wiltshire are not welcome. Even though geographically they may live nearer than children who live in B&NES to Bath. Also a similar argument may be aimed at South Gloucestershire that is not that far away.

The trouble is that Universities can accommodate students and children of 18 year or over who may also live in digs, but obviously younger children are at risk. So one wonders how these children will be bussed to and from Dyson's school? And how much that will cost?  If the school were to be a regional centre, to which children can go to experience something that cannot be provided locally then fair enough. But this is not to be. Why should the government fund this school at the expense of underfunding schools not only in B&NES but also Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire? Because that is exactly what they will do. If they don't, then they will be accused of spending more money in this area than elsewhere. Or is there going to be extra funding?

I know that there is funding from Rolls Royce and other companies but are they going to fund similar experiments elsewhere? No of course not, they probably can't. But then if the idea is worthwhile we need regional centres (schools) and independent companies may need funding to support their contribution-which is essential.  Do they do this in other countries? And if so how do they do it?

Design and Technology Destroyed Engineering Education

There is something quite daft about trying to teach children about design when the traditional foundations for design education have been undermined. Woodwork, Metalwork and Technical drawing syllabuses have been replaced by Design and Technology that has less time, obviously than someone who opts for all three. Design and Technology does not provide sufficient time for the majority of children to gain physical skills and become acquainted with the basics of engineering which is necessary for intelligent design. Except of course for the more able.  One must bear in mind that a new aeroplane probably requires over a million parts (and almost as many drawings) and a new car costs over £60,000,000 to design!

Assuming that the school goes ahead the factors that at present are a cause for complaint and could be resolved are:

1. entrance to Dyson's school is not restricted to B&NES children.

2. schools in B&NES, Somerset,  Wiltshire and South Gloucester will not receive less funding

3. transport to the school will be provided free of charge to schools & parents, wherever they live

4. facilities for adults should similarly not be restricted due to their geographic location

5. Bath University or any other educational institution should not be disadvantaged in any way

The trouble with engineering design and the lack of skilled workers is partly due to the destruction of the traditional trade approach to teaching the subject in schools.  In order to get the subject more acceptable as an A level by universities the new subject Design and Technology was introduced. There would be more theory and consequently as mentioned above less time for practical work. School studies that involve physical activities have had less and less time as more and more subjects are introduced. 





Posted on 11 Aug 2008 by Geoff Edwards
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