UK chemeng student numbers fall

Article by Staff Writer

THE number of students opting to study chemical engineering in the UK has fallen for the first time since IChemE launched its schools promotional campaign – whynotchemeng – in 2001.

Figures released by the University and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) show close to a 12% fall in both applications to study chemical engineering (down to 20,325 from 23,125 in 2015) and the number of students accepted to courses (down to 3,300 from 3,775 in 2015). This is a stark fall in comparison with a 0.5% and 0.2% drop in corresponding figures for engineering as a whole, and a 0.3% and 0.5% rise across all subjects.

“This year’s figures suggest that the phenomenal level of interest in chemical engineering peaked in 2015, and we are now seeing a cooling in demand for places,” said IChemE communications director Andy Furlong. Intake figures had climbed steadily for 14 years, up from just 940 in 2001.

“IChemE is receiving reports of a graduate oversupply, particularly in light of the challenges facing the energy sector, which has traditionally hired a good proportion of chemical engineering graduates. In addition, the UK government has placed a major focus on apprenticeships.”

Furlong noted that this is good news from a social mobility perspective, and that IChemE is working with employers to offer apprentices and engineering technicians flexible routes to professional registration.

The number of overseas applications has also fallen, with submissions from EU students down 10% (1,325 to 1,180). While there have been stark warnings from universities that Brexit could hit EU-student applications for UK courses, submissions were made ahead of the vote to leave so, with the proportion of applications from the EU steady at 6% of the total, the drop appears to be part of the overall cooling in interest.

Seeking a silver lining from the news, the proportion of female students entering chemical engineering remains an outlier (26%) compared to the wider discipline (17%).

“Chemical engineering is still an excellent degree choice for young people, given the transferability of the skill set to a wide variety of industry roles. There are significant opportunities coming down the track in areas including energy storage, biotechnology, new nuclear power generation and the manufacture of smart materials,” Furlong said. “I’m optimistic that most of our chemical engineering graduates will find employment that makes good use of their considerable talents.”

IChemE has said it will continue to monitor university intake, application and graduation figures, and work with university departments and employers to highlight the diversity of opportunities for chemical engineering graduates.

Article by Staff Writer

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