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Qualified manpower in engineering: Britain and other industrially advanced countries.



This article examines the numbers of skilled persons in engineering and allied occupations who qualify each year throughout the skill range--from an engineering doctorate to craftsmen and technicians--and compares Britain with other advanced industrial countries. The main quantitative difference between Britain and other countries lies in the numbers qualifying at the level of qualified craftsman; attention is also drawn to an important qualitative difference in practical content and length of university-degree courses in engineering.

Concern as to the adequacy of technical training in British engineering is of long standing: are enough people trained to sufficiently high standards? Continuing rapid expansion in education in all countries makes it worth looking again at how numbers qualifying in engineering and technologically-related subjects in Britain compare with other leading industrial countries, to ask whether there is a shortfall in Britain and, if so, whether it arises at the top--amongst those engaged in research and development; or amongst those organising and managing production with degree-level qualifications; or amongst those with intermediate technician qualifications; or amongst those engaged directly in production requiring craft-level qualifications or their equivalent.

The view of UK government officials, put forward with certain reservations in a recent Employment Gazette (hereafter: EG), is that Britain now is `on a par with other countries'; and when qualifications at upper levels--ranging from technician to post-graduate--are taken together and expressed per head of employed population, the numbers qualifying in the UK in 1983 apparently exceeded those in France, West Germany, Japan and the USA.(1) The government's statisticians had taken as their starting point the figures reproduced in Unesco's Statistical Yearbook, while retaining doubts as to whether the classification of engineering qualifications was on all fours for the various countries; further research was called for.

The Engineering Council, with their close knowledge of competition provided by the technical qualities of foreign products, disagreed with the substance and statistical detail of the official message. Having taken advice from a number of researchers, the Council disputed--by way of particular example--the EG figures for Japan relating to qualified technicians which, the Engineering Council was satisfied, was only a fraction of the correct number; this was subsequently agreed in substance in a further article in the Employment Gazette.(2)

This Note looks in more detail at the types of qualification and numbers qualifying in France, West Germany and the United States, as well as Japan, starting from each country's original returns rather than the summaries prepared for the Unesco Yearbook. There is of course no exact correspondence amongst countries in scope and standards of qualifications; and approximations are inevitable in making international comparisons. But the kind of definitional short-cuts adopted by Unesco to gain a semblance of equivalence for their purposes--when comparing very diverse industrialised and developing countries--are not necessarily the best when we are concerned solely in comparing advanced industrial countries. Hence it should not occasion surprise that the results presented here differ.

We shall consider in turn the numbers in a recent year in each country qualifying in engineering with higher degrees, first degrees, technician qualifications and craft qualifications; a summary is offered at the end of each section in view of many complex issues relating to the equivalence of standards in different countries at each level of qualification.(3) Adjustment for size of country is hardly necessary in comparing the UK, France and Germany, since they have very similar total populations (56, 55 and 61 million); Japan's population is about double that size (120 million) and that of the US about four times (240 million), and these provide simple factors for standardisation. Alternative bases for standardisation might be the total workforce, or those employed only in manufacturing; but differences would not be great. In any event, in modern economies which rely so widely on engineers--whether in manufacturing, transport or communications--it is not obvious that such alternatives provide a better basis for comparison.

Research qualifications: Doctorates From the EG article it would appear that Britain's higher education system produced three times(!) as many engineers at post-graduate level as Germany in 1983, and slightly fewer than the other three countries. Germany's pre-eminent position in engineering is well known; if Britain produced three times as many post-graduates, is it to be concluded that all is more than well with Britain's efforts at this level? The problem with those figures is that they combined Doctoral degrees, based on three years' research requiring a substantial element of originality, with Master degrees based on 1-2 year courses leading to expertise in a special field, but not requiring original research (some require reports on practical projects, others are based only on taught courses and final examinations).

What is Britain's relative position if we consider only Doctorates? Curiously enough, statistics in Britain of the number of doctorates awarded in engineering have not been published; the Universities Statistical Record has kindly provided an unpublished total of 680 doctorates awarded to home students in 1987, which is about a third of all post-graduate degrees in engineering (that is, including Masters' degrees) awarded to home students.(4)

Germany awarded 1,006 doctorates in engineering to home students in 1985 (including Wirtschaftsingenieure, who follow courses including some economics and managerial subjects, but excluding architects for comparability with the British definition of engineering)--about 50 per cent more than Britain.

France awarded 230 degrees of Docteur ingenieur to home students at Institutes of Technology in 1986, and an additional 70 (approximately) obtained other doctorates of science at universities in subjects related to engineering (Doctorat de 3e cycle and D. d'Etat), giving a total of about 300--which is about half that of Britain. Japan awarded only 700 doctorates which, after allowing for a population about double the size of this country, is comparable to France. The United States awarded a total of 3,200 doctorates in engineering; allowing for a population four times this country's, and 40 per cent of foreign students at this level (a proportion based on returns for 1982-3), the US total appears to be only half of Germany's, about a third below the UK, but above France and Japan.

In short: apart from the comparison with Germany--which may not be insignificant if Britain wished one day to aim for the very highest engineering standards--these comparisons indicate that as many, or more, doctorates are awarded in engineering in Britain as in other successful industrial countries--the US, Japan and France.(5)

Advanced specialised engineers: Master degrees At the Master level a very different story emerges. In Britain approximately 1,300 MSc degrees were awarded to home students in engineering in 1987. These are usually specialised second degrees, taken after a BSc.

To avoid the risk of understating Britain's attainments in comparison with other countries, we might be tempted to add here the 900 home students who obtained enhanced first degrees, awarded as M Eng or B Eng depending on the awarding institution. These degrees take four years, plus a total of about a year's industrial experience before or in the middle of the course, rather than the three years required for the usual BSc in engineering. These courses were introduced just over a decade ago, following recommendations by Dainton; the numbers enrolling have doubled in the past five years. It is important to notice that these courses vary: (a) some concentrate the extra time more on production management and economic topics; and (b) others spend more of the extra time on specialised engineering topics of value to particular large firms who have advised on the content of these courses. These firms provide supplementary bursaries (equivalent to about an additional 50 per cent of the usual government grant to all students) to encourage good students--those with high results at their A levels--to take these specialised courses. The former type of courses have not met with unalloyed success, some employers taking the view that more practical experience is needed before an engineering graduate can benefit from managerial courses; the latter specialised engineering courses seem to have been more successful. The value and appropriate subject-content of four-year degrees remains under discussion, and a final assessment has yet to be made.(6) If we are prepared to take all these degrees together, the total for the UK is raised to about 2,200.

The Japanese total of 9,800 MSc degrees in 1985 is over twice as great per head of population. The US total of 22,000 in 1985, after allowing for their greater population (and for 27 per cent of foreign students at this level), is equivalent to nearly double the British level. The quality of Master's degrees in the US and Japan, which take two years, has often been judged to be similar to Britain's (though their Bachelor degrees are usually of a lower standard than here).(7)

Germany and France do not have university qualifications corresponding to our second, or Master's, degree; but the standard of their first degrees at universities seems close to our MSc. The German Diplom is taken at an average age of 28, say, when about six years older than those taking first degrees in Britain (German pupils take their `A levels', the Abitur, 1-2 years later than here; they then wait a year or so before commencing university at 21-22; and their first university degree course in engineering on average takes 6.4 years to qualification, including half a year in industry).(8) Their Diplom requires a dissertation (Diplom Arbeit), often involving specialised industrially-based empirical work of 3-6 months' duration. The standard reached in engineering has been described to us, by a German authority, as comparable to the MSc at the best US universities. In Britain we were told that German students reach the equivalent of our BSc standard a year before taking their Diplom (and perhaps earlier). Some 7,000 German students attained their Diplom in 1985; even if only half reached the equivalent of our MSc standard, that would correspond to well over double the number reaching MSc in this country.

The French system is similar to the German in the greater length of the course (five years after Bac, corresponding to our A levels, usually with specialisation in mathematics--the Bac C); it is also similar to the German system in the later age at which French students reach their first qualification, the Diplome d'ingenieur. About 13,000 took their Diplome, mostly at the Grandes ecoles--their top institutions of higher education--and reach a standard which these institutions advertise as equivalent to the Master of Science or Master of Engineering in the United States. At the Grandes ecoles some also take a preliminary research qualification, the Diplome d'etudes approfondies (DEA), simultaneously with their first degrees; this permits them to proceed to a doctorate course. At other institutions the DEA is taken a year later, or a more or less parallel specialised practical qualification at that level is taken, known as the Diplome d'etudes superieures specialisees (the DESS). Some 6,000 home students attained these higher qualifications (the DEA and the DESS), and that seems to be the minimum number that should be taken as equivalent to our MSc.

In brief: in terms of qualification to Master level, the numbers qualifying each year in Britain are only a half or less than in the other four countries considered.

Bachelor degrees The Bachelor degree represents the main level of qualification in Britain. International comparisons even at this level are not straightforward since, as noticed, it is not easy to draw the correct line amongst qualifications requiring different periods of preparation. The simple approach for our present purpose is to consider for each country all those who attain a standard more or less comparable to our first degree; for this purpose we need not concern ourselves that some will go on to attain higher levels, whether as a subsequent distinct qualification, or whether their initial qualification is of a higher standard than here (it would, of course, be wrong on this approach to add the number of first degrees to the number of second and higher degrees to obtain a `grand total'--since that would involve counting the same person more than once).(9)

In Britain some 14,000 home students obtained a first degree in engineering and technology in 1985;(10) these degrees are usually awarded after three-year full-time courses, but increasingly include an additional period of industrial experience (the total includes 900 enhanced degrees which, as noted above, require an additional year). Another 5,000 graduates would be added to this total if the subjects covered were extended to include architecture, surveying, computing and allied subjects (as pointed out by the Engineering Council in their comment on EG(11)); but international comparability of available statistics is probably closer without this addition. Only some 7,000 a year have recently gone on to apply for the qualification of Chartered Engineer to which they are entitled after subsequent experience of two years (a university degree is now a requistite for this level; qualification to a corresponding level a generation ago was possible following the `practical' rather than the `academic' route).

For Germany we need to take together the 7,000 first degrees of university courses which take 6-7 years, mentioned above, together with the greater total of 14,000 graduates(12) from Fachhochschulen (and from combined general and technical university-institutes, the Gesamthochschulen), corresponding to our Colleges of Technology and Polytechnics. Students at the latter institutes follow shorter and more practically-oriented courses taking an average of 4.2 years full-time, and receive a Diplom (FH) (previously known as Grad. Ing.). Average age of entry to Fachhochschulen is about a year older than to universities, with many having attended a `middle' school (the Realschule) and then an apprenticeship and/or a technical upper school (the Fachoberschule)--rather than the usual route to university from a Gymnasium; average age of qualification is 27, about a year younger than graduates from German universities.(13) The relation between the shorter and longer courses in Germany is often said to be similar to the relation in Britain between HND and BSc courses, with a not unfamiliar element of intellectual snobbery attached to the latter. For our purposes here we need only note that the German shorter courses are longer than the British BSc courses, and that the greater practical orientation of the FH courses is much valued by German employers. While numbers of students taking the longer course have expanded somewhat more rapidly than those taking the shorter course, the shorter course continues to be the more important and produces twice as many graduates as the longer course. The prediction reported by Finniston (1980, p. 221) that the longer course would become twice as numerous as the shorter, is very far from fulfillment; indeed, the view is now to be heard that those completing the shorter year practically-orientated course of 4-5 years are in greater demand.

The total number of home students qualifying by these two routes in Germany in 1985 was 21,000, which is about 50 per cent greater than in Britain.(14) This corresponds closely to the greater proportion of students in Germany enrolling on engineering courses (22 per cent of all students enrolling in 1985 in Germany were on engineering courses: 14 per cent of all full-time first degree students were on engineering and technology courses in Britain).

We have already noted that the standard of those German first degrees taken at universities (7,000 out of the total of 21,000) is distinctly higher than in the UK. Another difference worth mentioning briefly at this point lies in emphasis of the subject matter: the fundamentals of `engineering science' and a generalist approach are the central characteristics of most university courses in Britain, so that the course is a kind of `applied physics'; in Germany there is more emphasis on practical engineering, design and specialisation (these differences apply to both German types of courses). The contrast between the countries is perhaps narrowing: the longer German course now aims to provide a stronger mixture of general theoretical foundations; in Britain, the increasing tendency to require a `sandwich year' in industry provides more practical and specialised elements. These changes remain the subject of debate amongst engineering professors, and the difference in standards reached is an issue in the mutual recognition of qualifications in the European Community.(15)

The French awarded some 15,000 first degrees in engineering in 1985, as mentioned above. The number is similar to Britain's but, as noted, the French course is longer and of a higher standard.

The US awarded some 90,000 first engineering degrees in 1985,(16) which is comparable to the German total per head of the population, and 50 per cent more than Britain. In Japan some 60,000 graduated in engineering; per head of the population, this is double the British total. Both the US and Japanese first degrees take four years, of which the first two years are usually devoted to general studies and only the last two specialise in engineering. The general impression is that the standard of American and Japanese first degrees is very variable, much below Germany or France, and on the whole lower than in Britain.

In brief: at the level of a first university degree, Britain does not train as many as Germany, and the length of a British course is shorter and is not as advanced; Britain trains about the same number as France, but the French degree is of a higher standard; and Britain trains fewer than the Americans and considerably fewer than the Japanese, but standards of first degrees in the latter countries are lower. Whereas in previous generations, and until about a decade ago, the main source of concern in Britain was with the low numbers of university-trained engineers, future concern in Britain--in comparison with its European neighbours, at least--must be as much with the standard and quality of its first degrees in engineering.(17)

Technicians A great range of tasks is carried out by those at `technician level', and there is room for debate as to the most appropriate definition. Our previous comparisons of matched manufacturing plants in Britain, Germany and France--limited as they may be--lead us to the view that qualifications lying above craftsman, and below graduate engineer, should be grouped in a single category of `technician or equivalent'.(18) Any finer classification within this category does not seem to us realistic, especially when it comes to international comparisons (more detailed field-enquiries focussing on this issue are planned).

Before turning to numbers, the Unesco definition of their Level 5 needs to be noted, as given in three languages in their Yearbook (1986 edn, p. 363). In the English version a distinction is drawn between `high-level technicians' who are to be included in Level 5 and, implicitly, other technicians who are to be put into a lower category. No guidance is given as to how the line between high and other levels of technician is to be drawn (there is as yet no agreed Unesco definition of Level 4--though definitions for Levels 1-3 have been agreed for various stages of primary and secondary schooling); it is only stated that qualifications for `production supervisors' are to be included in Level 5. The French version makes no distinction between high- and low-level technicians, and speaks simply of `techniciens' and `controleurs de la production'. The Spanish version is similar to the French, but additionally includes `maestros'. More detailed guidelines indicate that education for this level has as a pre-requisite `the equivalent of full second level education for their mastery' (our italics), that is, the equivalent of full-time schooling till about 18.(19) For the UK, this would require A levels, BTEC National (or the previous Ordinary National) Certificate, or whatever may be judged equivalent. The Level 5 course itself begins `at about 17 or 18 and lasts for about three years', and `many of the programmes are part-time, [or] evening ... courses': presumably the course need be equivalent to no more than one year full-time. As will appear, our approach leads, on the whole, to a wider coverage than the Unesco definition.

In the UK--accepting the official estimates in EG--some 21,000 home students qualified at technician level in engineering and technology in 1983, most of whom were awarded BTEC Higher Certificates (or the previous Higher National Certificate) and their equivalents. By 1985 the number had risen to some 23,000 (a further 1,600 qualified in computer studies at this level). These courses usually take two years part-time, by day-release or equivalent block-release, after BTEC (Ordinary) National Certificate, or after a craftsman qualification (such as City and Guilds Part 2) and a `conversion course' to the technician stream. The Higher Certificate can thus be obtained after five years of day-release courses following full-time school till age 16, with passes in three subjects at CSE grade 3: this is important in considering the equivalent levels abroad.

In addition we may add the approximately net total of 6,000 attaining a BTEC National Diploma (or the previous Ordinary National Diploma) and who do not proceed to the Higher Diploma(20); these usually require two years full-time study after the age of 16 and have higher entry requirements than for the National Certificate (usually O level rather than CSE passes), and a wider curriculum of studies is followed than required for the National Certificate. The standard attained in theoretical work is somewhat above that covered in craftsman courses; while those on part-time National Certificate courses have been included with craftsmen in the next section, in order not to risk under-stating the British total of technicians we have included those with National Diplomas here (this category is perhaps equivalent to the `lower technicians' who were to be excluded according to the English version of the Unesco definition). This yields a grand total of 29,000.

The most important German qualification above that of craftsman is the Meister; it is an externally examined qualification, and requires a previous examined craft-qualification (Facharbeiter, requiring 3 1/2 years of day-release classes in engineering), followed by at least three years' experience, and then usually a part-time course covering specialist technical and managerial subjects spread over 2-3 years (an average of 950 hours of instruction). A total of 31,000 passed their Meister examinations in 1985 in relevant fields (Industriemeister, Geprufte do., Handwerkmeister, in metalworking, construction, woodworking, etc) at an average age of just under 30. In addition, some 13,000 completed courses as Techniker in their Fachschulen, mostly two-year full-time courses taken by 19-23 year olds, in corresponding fields (mechanical and electrical, construction, etc, excluding food and medical, and excluding foreign students). This yields a total of 44,000, which is about 50 per cent more than for Britain.(21)

The main French technical qualifications above craft-level and below first-degree level are the Baccalaureat technologique (Series F), the BTS and the DUT. The Bac requires three year's full-time study after the age of 16 and the standard reached is equivalent to our BTEC National (or OND) standard. The BTS and DUT are awarded on the completion of two-year full-time courses, including three months of industrial experience, following the Baccalaureat or its equivalent. Those who obtained a Baccalaureat technologique and did not proceed to higher courses numbered about 12,000. Some 11,000 students obtained the specialised and practically-orientated Brevet de technicien superieur (BTS) in 1986 in engineering, construction and allied subjects; another 8,000 obtained a Diplome universitaire de technologie (DUT) having followed a more general and theoretically-oriented course. A similar level was reached by qualified craftsmen following part-time courses who obtained a Brevet professionnel, but the numbers involved are now small (under 1,000). A somewhat lower level, the Brevet de technicien, was attained by 3,000 candidates, mainly those who obtained a Bac technologique and followed a BTS course but did not complete the full BTS course. The grand total of 35,000 is a fifth higher than the UK's.

Statistics on qualifications at this level in the United States appear to be incomplete. Some 100,000 awards were confirmed in institutes of higher education below bachelor level in engineering and technology in 1985. This total covers a wide range: some were `associate degrees', usually taken two years after completing a `High School Diploma'; others required courses up to four years; other awards followed courses of under a year. Awards following courses of under a year may safely be ignored here. Taking Associate degrees (64,000) and half the number of awards for courses of 1-4 years (31,000) would yield a total of 79,000 (EG gave a lower total based only on the former; that seems too narrow a criterion). Per head of the population this still seems low, being less than the number in Britain, France or Germany. The reason seems to be that the available statistics relate only to institutions of `higher education' and exclude `non-collegiate post-secondary schools'. The latter had a total enrolment on full-time vocational and technical programmes (apart from courses on office work, trade, health etc) of 400,000 students in 1981.(22)

For Japan we need to consider the broad two-year full-time courses leading to Associate Degrees in their Junior Colleges, taken at ages 19-20 after completing Upper Secondary School, together with their five-year full-time courses at Technical Colleges at ages 15-20. The total qualifying in engineering subjects (excluding architecture) from both these types of colleges was approximately 16,000 in 1984 (this corresponds to the number reported in the Unesco Yearbook and quoted in EG). In addition, as pointed out by the Engineering Council, the Japanese have a large system of specialised vocational schools--known as Special Training Schools (STS)--which provide advanced technical courses; these are mostly full-time two-year courses for 18-20-year-olds.

The standard of these STS courses is distinctly above that provided at Japanese vocational upper secondary schools for 15-18 year-olds where (as explained in a previous National Institute study) a standard corresponding to our craftsman level is reached. Those going on to STS are more advanced pupils having first completed the curriculum of the Japanese general upper secondary school till age 18, which requires at least one year's further mathematics beyond our O level, and includes basic calculus. The STS qualification is also taken by some university graduates who wish to specialise, sometimes in tandem with a university course. Approximately 20,000 graduated from Special Training Schools in 1984 in engineering (excluding architects); together with those mentioned above as graduating from Junior and Technical Colleges, this gives a total of 36,000 qualifying in engineering subjects. (In addition, some 20,000 completed STS courses in computing and data-processing, compared with Britain's 1,600 BTEC Higher Certificate or Diplomas in these subjects as mentioned above).

Allowing for the greater population of Japan, the number of technicians trained there in engineering subjects is only half that of the UK; if we include computer and data-processing courses at this level, the totals are similar. In addition the Japanese provide many highly specialised qualifications, based on short or evening courses, as described by Dore and Sako;(23) they undoubtedly add to the stock of certified technical-vocational skills, but are probably on the whole too narrow to warrant inclusion here.

In brief: the number trained to the equivalent of technician level in Britain is similar to that in France; Germany trains about 50 per cent more to this level, mainly in consequence of its system of Meister qualifications; the recorded totals for the US and Japan are only about a half those in Britain, but it may be that specialised short courses--for which no systematic national statistics have been compiled--compensate for those shortfalls.

Craftsmen Let us finally consider the numbers educated, trained and qualified to craftsman-level, updating previous National Institute studies of the training of mechanics, electricians, and construction workers passing the relevant City and Guilds examinations; such comparisons have been carried out with Germany, France and Japan, but not so far with the US.(24)

In Britain some 27,000 qualified in these occupations in City and Guilds examinations at Part 2 (craftsman) level in 1985-6. To this may be added the net number attaining BTEC National Certificates (net of those estimated as going on to Higher Certificates, which have been included with technicians above) who totalled 8,000 in that year: the standard of knowledge reached can be considered adequately comparable for the present purposes, though in practice most of those who attain a National Certificate would go on to work in Britain on `technician-type' work rather than `craftsman' work. The grand total of 35,000 is about a quarter less than the combined numbers attaining first university degrees and technician qualifications.(25)

In Germany some 120,000 reached this standard, over three times the British number.(26) In France the corresponding total was 92,000 which is about 2 1/2 times the British number.

For Japan we have figures for those completing mechanical and electrical courses to craft-level, but not for building courses; allowing for their greater population, close to twice as many in Japan reach the equivalent of craftsman-standard as in Britain in comparable subject-areas (91,000 compared to 24,000).

Because of the restrictive practices that have become accepted in Britain--specially in large unionised firms--employers often say they do not need more craftsmen; but there is no doubt that they remain short of skilled persons with a similar level of knowledge and competence who, as in France or Germany, can assist in a flexible way in the use of modern technology. These comparisons provide an indication of the extent of Britain's skill shortage at this level.

Both the Germans and the French have twice as many qualifying each year as craftsmen as they have qualifying as technicians or with university degrees in engineering: whereas in Britain, as just said, the number qualifying as craftsmen is less than the numbers qualifying at higher levels. It is consequently not surprising to hear frequent complaints in Britain that university graduates have to carry out an undue amount of work that should be within the capability of those with lower qualifications.

Summary and implications The table above sets out in summary form the results of our comparisons; for the convenience of British (and French and German) readers, the original figures for the US and Japan have been reduced in proportion to the UK population.

At top research levels, the number of home students attaining doctorates in engineering in Britain exceeds--per head of the population--the number in France, Japan and the United States. Britain falls below Germany in this respect; it would require something like an additional 300 doctorates a year to bring Britain to German levels, but Britain's deficiencies at more basic levels of qualification seem more urgent.

At the level of the specialised engineer who has obtained the equivalent of a Master's degree, numbers in Britain appear to be well under half those in each of the other four countries considered here. In France and Germany this is because their higher educational institutions have an upper tier (Grandes ecoles in France, Hochschulen in Germany) which provide first degrees taking 2-3 years longer than here, with correspondingly higher final standards. There has been a long debate in Britain on the need to extend university engineering courses, and on the need to include more practical work; this is reflected in the growth of four-year extended and enhanced degrees and sandwich courses in recent years. The present comparisons suggest it may be appropriate to consider further moves in this direction; an additional 2-3,000 students on enhanced degrees or studying to MSc level would be involved (equivalent, say, to 30 per cent of Bachelor degrees taking four-year courses, instead of the present 15 per cent). The Continental examples of two tiers of higher educational institution, preparing for different levels of qualification, provide a possible economical way forward here; closer comparisons of standards reached in Continental Europe, and of industry's demands, seem warranted.

At first-degree level Britain trains as many as France, a third fewer than Germany and the United States, and only half the Japanese total (the US and Japanese degrees are however on the whole of a lower standard). To bring Britain to Germany's level in numbers (if not in standards) would require an additional 5,000 graduates a year.

The Employment Gazette observed that Britain is to some extent able to compensate for a shortfall at graduate level by a greater number who qualify as technicians; this seems correct, apart from the comparison with Germany. Germany trains many more to the equivalent of technician-level as a result of its system of Meister training; an additional 20,000 technicians or graduates a year would be needed if Britain wished to reach the German total of graduates and technicians combined. The lack of technical skills at the level of the foreman has for long been recognised as a very serious disadvantage that British industry faces in competition with Germany; it warrants more emphasis in public policy.

The largest discrepancy arises at craftsman level where France and Japan train between two and three times as many as Britain in mechanical, electrical and construction occupations. If Britain were content to aim for these levels, something like an additional 50,000 craftsmen would need to qualify each year. If it wished to attain German standards, an additional 80,000 a year would be required.

The falling trend in Britain in the numbers trained to engineering craftsman standards, despite the Government's very expensive Youth Training Scheme and related initiatives, must continue to be Britain's most serious worry. Two aspects of government policy are particularly called into question by the foregoing. First, ought not the activities of the Engineering Industry Training Board--which has a principal concern with engineering training at `shop floor' level--to be substantially expanded, instead of curtailed as proposed in the recent White Paper on Employment for the 1990s (Cmnd 540, December 1988)? Secondly, are the government's plans to develop the new City Technology Colleges, which are to provide secondary-school pupils with a full-time technically-orientated curriculum, adequately ambitious? Only 20 are to be opened by the end of this year; would it not be closer to the country's needs to plan for a hundred times as many? ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

In preparing this paper I have been assisted by many in the engineering industry, at the industry's training board, in engineering departments at universities, in government departments, and by colleagues at the National Institute; I am grateful to tham all. Financial support was provided by the Manpower Services Commission (now the training section of the Department of Employment) and by the Economic and Social Research Council. NOTES (1)Employment Gazette, December 1987, table 1 (p.605) and `Conclusion', p.610. (2)J. Blears and B. J. Bonwitt, A Comparison of the Statistics of Engineering Education: Japan and the United Kingdom (Engineering Council, May 1988); Employment Gazette (forthcoming, 1989). (3)The most convenient introduction to the UK's and other countries' systems of engineering training is in the report of the (Finniston) Committee, Engineering our Future (Cmnd 7994, HMSO, 1980), especially pp. 83,88 and Appendix E; more recent developments are noted here where necessary. (4)The most recent figures available to me are quoted throughout this paper, even if they do not always relate to precisely the same year. (5)For the sake of clarity, and curiosity, it should be noticed that this is virtually the reverse of the EG finding in relation to all post-graduate qualification--that Britain produced more than Germany, but fewer than the other three countries! (6)A helpful survey of employers' and students' views on enhanced degrees, carried out in 1984-6, form the subject of a research report to ESRC by Professor A. Keenan (Herriot-Watt University, Edinburgh) and Dr P.A. Lawrence (Loughborough University of Technology); the views expressed in the text above reflect also my own recent discussions with employers. I have also benefitted from unpublished reports kindly supplied by J. Blears and B. J. Bonwitt of the Research Unit of the Engineering Professors Unit, by Professor J. Douce of the Department of Engineering at the University of Warwick, and by GEC in relation to proposals by their engineering director H. J. H. Wassell. Further research into industry's evaluation of enhanced degrees is clearly needed. Two difficulties in coming to definite conclusions need to be recognised at the outset: first, those on enhanced courses have better initial qualifications (higher A levels), and allowance needs to be made for this in the control sample of those who have taken three-year courses; (b) the comparisons need to be carried out, age by age, after allowing those in three-year courses to spend an extra year in employment (to match the extra year spent on study by those on enhanced courses). (7)See EG, p. 609 with the reference to Rawle's work, and Finniston, pp. 89 and 203f. (8)Average ages, etc., are from the Federal German education ministry's statistical pocketbook, Grund und Strukturdaten 1987/88, pp. 162, 164 and 214 (for length of course we have quoted the number of Fachsemestern, which exclude an average of about 4 months spent on other studies). (9)If everyone taking a Doctorate had also previously taken a Master's degree, treble counting would be involved if both were added to first degrees. The figures for `levels 6 and 7' together, as given in the EG, which add together first and subsequent degrees, clearly need to be taken with a pinch of salt. An alternative method of presentation would be to deduct the number attaining a second degree from the number attaining a first degree, to give the estimated net number attaining a first degree and not taking any higher degree. (10)Based on the DES's estimated total of 16,600 shown in Education Statistics for the UK, including enhanced degrees (as above), less the estimated number of foreign students shown in EG, p. 610. (11)Blears and Bonwit, op. cit., pp. 8--9; they also raise doubts as to whether the EG total includes some who have been double-counted among the 1,900 who have qualified professionally at `private sector institutions' and who may also have attained a degree or diploma. (12)Architectural qualifications have been excluded here. (13)See Grund und Strukturdaten, loc. cit. (14)To avoid double-counting we have not taken into account here the 600 awards of teaching qualifications (Lehramptsprufungen), required for those wishing to teach engineering in vocational schools, since most also have another qualification. (15)See the recent article by Professor A. W. J. Chisholm, The fundamentals of engineering education and their application in training for advanced manufacturing (Proceedings of Second International Seminar on Intelligent Manufacturing Systems, Elsevier, 1988); and Finniston, pp. 84 and 90. The Engineering Council had recently issued a consultation document on proposals for a generalist engineering course in which `any necessary specialisation [is to take] place in first employment rather than in the degree course itself'; this seems contrary to the German approach (see An Integrated Engineering Degree Programme, Engineering Council, London, November 1988, p. 2). (16)This total excludes foreign students and architectural qualifications. (17)The great difference between British higher technical education and that of the Continent (France, Germany and Sweden) goes back to the nineteenth century, as explained in the valuable monograph by G. Ahlstrom, Engineers and Industrial Growth (Croom Helm, 1982). (18)NIER, February 1985, November 1987, and further studies in progress. (19)See EG, p. 604 based on ISCED Handbook: United Kingdom (England and Wales), CSR/E/12, Unesco, 1975; similar handbooks for France and the United States are referred to in that publication, p. 3, but only that for France has been issued (in 1976, CSR/E/13). (20)The net figure has been derived on the assumption that a quarter of those attaining Higher Diplomas have previously attained a National Diploma (based on a survey of Diplomates carried out for the Department of Employment, see Employment Gazette, September 1988). It needs to be noted that ISCED includes National Diplomas at Level 3, and hence reaches a lower total for Level 5 than we do here. (21)Our total for Germany differs considerably from the EG figure of 14,000, which omits Meister. Particularly confused, and confusing, is the Unesco Yearbook (tables 3.13 and 3.14) which showed a total of some 30,000 students at Level 5, but none (!) receiving qualifications. Assuming a two-year course, and allowing for some not completing the course, it seems that EG derived an estimate of 14,000 who qualified. The idiosyncrasies of the German official statisticians in trying to meet Unesco definitions must not divert the reader from the real issues: Meister qualifications are of undoubted industrial importance in Germany and, in our view, cannot be omitted in any realistic comparison of workforce qualifications. (22)See US Department of Education, Center for Education Statistics, Less-than-4-year Awards in Institutions of Higher Education 1983--85 (1987), and Digest of Education Statistics 1988, pp. 285--8; US Statistical Yearbook 1981, table 287 (and subsequent issues). Regrettably no later figures on `non-collegiate' schools have been found in the sources available to us, nor details of numbers qualifying. (23)R. Dore and M. Sako, How the Japanese Learn to Work (Routledge, forthcoming). (24)National Institute Economic Review, September 1983, May 1986, February and May 1987, November 1988. (25)Some points of detail in this calculation may be footnoted. (a) For construction qualifications we have taken the numbers in Britain completing the two-year part-time course known as `craft level'; in engineering the corresponding appellation requires a three-year course. A stricter criterion would require us to take the numbers in construction completing the three-year course known as `advanced craft'; this would reduce the total by 10,000. (b) We have added a rough allowance of 10 per cent for Scottish technician qualifications. (c) To avoid double-counting between National and Higher qualifications, we have assumed that 90 per cent of those on Higher Certificate courses have completed National Certificate courses (based on discussions with Colleges of Further Education; the survey of the DE, mentioned above, did not provide information on this proportion since it excluded part-time students). (26)We have here deducted half the total noted above as going on to Meister qualifications to yield the net number with a craft qualification (the reason for not deducting a greater total is that many going on to Meister qualification have a `craft level' qualification in other fields outside our purview here, for example in chemical work, or in commercial aspects).
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Author:Prais, S.J.
Publication:National Institute Economic Review
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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