RAEng awards £1m to boost diversity success at engineering departments

Article by Adam Duckett

Research shows that diversity improves performance

UK university engineering departments have been awarded £1m (US$1.3m) from the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) for projects aimed at rapidly transforming the outcomes of under-represented groups of students.

The funding has been awarded to projects at 11 departments that seek to address unequal outcomes experienced by students including those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, neurodiverse students, disabled students, female students, and black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

Hayaatun Sillem, CEO of RAEng, said: “The Academy’s new Diversity Impact Programme has been designed to support universities in making a step change in diversity and inclusivity across engineering higher education. Our goal is to help universities to develop interventions, informed by evidence, that transform the outcomes of students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. It is vital that we seek innovative and creative ways to accelerate the pace of change rather than accepting that incremental improvement is all that is possible.

“There is an extensive evidence base supporting the benefits of diverse teams working in inclusive cultures but there is still a way to go in understanding how to deliver the culture of inclusion that unlocks the power of diversity. These projects will give us invaluable insights and experience that will be shared across the higher education community so that we can work collectively to drive positive change”.

King’s College London has won funding for a project called “Success for Black Engineers”. It reports that black students are less likely to achieve 2.1 or 1st degrees than white students. The project will train students from the university’s existing black community to mentor their peers and train black and minority ethnic staff to become academic mentors. While 30% of engineering university graduates are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, just 9% of UK engineers are from the same group, says the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK).

The University of Strathclyde reports that half of engineering students from disadvantaged backgrounds will not complete their degrees. The project will offer students mentoring by academics and industrialists, and provide summer schools and resilience training. In its dedicated report on social mobility in engineering, EngineeringUK reports that 24% of those working in engineering are from low socioeconomic backgrounds compared to 26% in the total labour force. And that 71% from advantaged backgrounds work at a managerial or professional level compared to 39% from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The University of Plymouth is setting up initiatives to improve the employability and employment opportunities for disabled and neurodiverse students. This includes providing networking sessions, micro-internships focused on soft skills, and mentoring with external partners, including the consultancy Equal Engineers.

In 2016 Harvard Business Review profiled a series of studies that show that more diverse groups make fewer mistakes, are more innovative, and more profitable.

Details on all 11 projects are available here.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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