In 2009, something special happened at the University of Lincoln (UoL). We founded the first new School of Engineering for more than 20 years as a bespoke solution to the needs of the major engineering employer in the City of Lincoln, Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery Ltd. With a strategic focus on industrial power and energy engineering, this, the UK’s first dedicated centre of its kind, represents a genuine commitment to an overarching mission to provide high-quality, industry-ready engineering graduates to support future UK growth. It has also seen the formation of a unique collaboration between industry and academic partners, with shared control and involvement in all aspects of research, teaching and enterprise.
Siemens management initially approached UoL to explore ways to increase the numbers of regional graduates and postgraduates. The tailor-made project bridges the strategic skills-supply/employer-demand deficit in the field of power and energy engineering. The development has international significance, having secured approval from the Siemens global board. UoL is now one of only eight selected UK HEI partners to the company. Moreover, the project is regarded as a model of excellence that the global business is seeking to replicate with other partner universities worldwide.
This pioneering venture is underpinned by a 10-year, £37.5m business plan, partly funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s strategic development fund, the European Development Fund and Lincoln City Council. A new £7.5m purpose-built Engineering Hub, located at the heart of the Lincoln campus, was co-designed by UoL colleagues and Siemens and officially inaugurated by the Princess Royal in January 2012. During the past year, the school and Siemens Product Training Group have collocated in the Hub, ensuring free and open access and genuine ongoing engagement. Siemens has also donated research and teaching facilities and made its suite of product-training equipment available to students, committing 540 hours of staff time per year to support teaching and learning beyond the traditional lecture theatre environment.
The operation of a customer-facing, global business unit within an academic department is a measure of the value that Siemens places on this development, and its willingness to expose its customers and supply chain to the partnership. Moreover, the school acts as an axis for wider engagement with Lincolnshire's engineering sector through the hosting of network events and cluster groups, providing a talent pipeline into a wide range of SMEs. This is a key mechanism for up-skilling existing workforces and assisting the clusters in developing global markets through the increasing number of international customers that visit the school weekly.
There are a number of unique aspects to this collaboration. The UoL shares control over the taught programmes, which are designed with Siemens' senior engineers, ensuring that the engineering content exactly matches industry requirements and professional skills are incorporated into every module. Industry staff teach these ‘touch-points’. In particular, the new MSc provision was developed from a global competition between individual turbomachinery business units, which specified the knowledge and skills that would be required to secure future growth.
An integrated work-placement programme enhances graduate employability skills. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has accredited monitored professional development schemes managed by Siemens, which has extended its registration to cover other companies for the benefit of all Lincoln engineering students. Students are given a minimum of 32 weeks' monitored professional development, in line our aim of educating “industry-ready graduates”. The joint venture also extends to research projects. UoL engages in collaborative R&D for the next generation of Siemens' products. Thus, product development strategies have been adopted over medium to long-term horizons, through applied research, in a manner that the company could not have previously pursued. Similarly, part-time PhD studentships are available to Siemens’ staff.
Uniquely, subjects are taught using intensive two-week block structures, allowing full-time students and part-time, work-based learners to be taught concurrently. This innovation was included in the programme via a request from the company, and all students have indicated it is highly motivating. The partnership with Siemens has allowed the school to quickly develop a reputation for excellence. Moreover, UoL has gained access to organisations with which it had previously struggled to connect, broadening our research projects and emphasising our teaching materials.
The innovation has already been highly commended by the IMechE and the Institute of Engineering and Technology, and the team behind the development won the prestigious Lord Stafford Award for Open Collaboration in November 2011. It's a measure of the achievement and innovation that has come from a university and an employer being prepared to collaborate in a truly different way.
Dr Jill Stewart is the head of engineering at the University of Lincoln