RAEng funds engineering department initiatives to bolster student diversity

Article by Adam Duckett

EIGHT UK university engineering departments have been awarded more than £700,000 (US$850,000) by the Royal Academy of Engineering to boost diversity and inclusion, and address unequal outcomes experienced by students from underrepresented groups.

Among the successful bids are initiatives designed to help develop entrepreneurial skills, provide mentoring, develop a toolkit to boost employability, and provide internships that bolster skills for sustainable engineering.

This is the second batch of awards from the RAEng’s Diversity Impact Programme, which gave £1m to 11 departments last year. The academy said some of this year’s projects focus particularly on the barriers faced by students with multiple intersecting markers of disadvantage. These are aspects of an individual’s identity and/or their background such as disability, ethnic background and socio-economic status.

The University of Bristol, one of the recipients of the awards, will use its £100,000 grant to empower students from underrepresented groups through workstreams that include activities such as mentoring, systemic evaluation and bottom-up training.

Hayaatun Sillem, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “One of our priorities is to ensure that the UK has a world-leading and truly inclusive engineering workforce, something that we can only achieve if we boost the numbers and diversity of those choosing engineering careers.

“In order to do that we need to address the inequality of experience and outcomes for engineering students and graduates from underrepresented groups. I hope these projects will provide important insights into how we can achieve this and help to create more inclusive cultures at a critical stage for aspiring engineers.”

While 30% of engineering university graduates are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, just 9% of UK engineers are from the same background, says the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK). Meanwhile, 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.

Canterbury Christ Church University has been awarded £93,500 for the development of an equality, diversity and inclusion focused engineering higher education toolkit to increase the pipeline of women, Black, Asian, minority ethnic and low socioeconomic status students. Students at the university will work with the consultancy EqualEngineers to develop the toolkit and undertake activities including networking and work placements, which will help students to showcase their engineering talent and secure jobs.

Mark McBride-Wright, a chemical engineer and founder of EqualEngineers, said: “I am absolutely delighted that our project with Canterbury Christ Church University has been successful in securing this funding. Dr Anne Nortcliffe [head of engineering at the university] won the EqualEngineers Engineering Talent Awards “Executive Leader of the Year” award in 2021 and we have been fermenting on this project idea for collaboration since we met. To now be able to put it into action is incredibly exciting.”

Teesside University has been awarded £100,000 for a project looking to boost the number of UK students taking up postgraduate engineering research. This includes providing paid research internships on local research projects that will develop the skills and knowledge needed for the net-zero technologies being implemented as part of the region’s industrial regeneration.

Oluwole Olawale Folayan, a chemical engineer and co-founder of AFBE-UK, said: "There is a revival of real innovation in our engineering sector and two things are necessary for such innovation to thrive: we must have a workforce that looks like the communities we serve and the atmosphere in our industry must be inclusive enough to ensure that all ideas are considered. This is why the diversity impact initiative set up by the Royal Academy of Engineering is so important. We, AFBE-UK, have the privilege of collaborating with the University of Dundee on one of these projects and we can’t wait to get started!"

Details on all eight programmes can be found here.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.