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Courses: Post Brexit fallout

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Uncertainty following the Brexit vote, coupled with a need for specialists to deliver the UK’s pipeline of infrastructure, make this a volatile time for universities offering geotechnical masters courses

Last June’s Brexit vote has left every sector in the UK wondering what the impact on them will be. And the higher education sector is no exception. Legislation allowing free movement of people has meant that until now, European Union (EU) students have been free to study in any member state, and pay the same fees as the locals do. There are also many pan-European research projects being carried out in part by UK universities, and there are many funding streams directly or indirectly controlled by Brussels.

Like many aspects of Brexit, it is impossible to know what the impact on UK universities will be until the deal to leave the EU has been done, and that is likely to take two years. Now that Parliament has voted for Article 50 to be triggered, the higher education sector will start lobbying in earnest to safeguard its status.

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A survey found that 30% of international students claim to be less likely to study in Britain in the wake of the Brexit result because the country feels “less welcoming”

Among the unknowns are student fees: will students coming to the UK from the EU find themselves paying the much higher fees that are currently charged to non-EU international students? And will there be visa restrictions?

Also, will students want to come to study in the UK if they know it is going to be difficult to stay and work in the country once they have obtained their qualifications? And if UK universities start losing out on the income they currently get from EU programmes, will they compensate by putting up the cost of tuition fees? This could have an impact on international students, but also those from within the UK.

Russell Group universities alone received more than £500M in EU investment in 2014/15, so this could be a considerable shortfall to make up post-Brexit.

Although the vote last June was specifically about the UK’s membership of the EU, one of the dominant issues in the debate was immigration in general. And the framing of that debate has already had an impact on young people considering coming to the UK to study, according to a survey carried out by student recruitment consultancy Hobsons after the Brexit vote.

The survey found that 30% of international students claim to be less likely to study in Britain in the wake of the Brexit result because the country feels “less welcoming”. And 6% said they would definitely not choose Britain as a study destination because of the referendum result.

Asked for alternative study destinations, 32% said they would choose Canada, 21% chose Germany, and 20% opted for either the US or Australia – although this was before the election of Donald Trump as US President.

The findings were not entirely negative, however: 43% of the survey’s respondents said the weakening of the pound against their home currency would make a UK degree less expensive.

When the survey was published in July 2016, Hobsons managing director Jeremy Cooper said: “Market conditions for international student recruitment look set to toughen, and universities need to send a clear message that the UK welcomes international students, as well as providing practical guidance and support.” The Brexit vote followed some years of work permit and visa restrictions for non-EU workers that had already resulted in students looking elsewhere. The number of Indian students coming to the UK, for example, declined by over 50% between 2010 and 2015, with many citing immigration and visa policies that do not favour students seeking to gain work experience, according to the country’s Hindustan Times.

Changes brought in over the last five years include restrictions on international students working while they study, and tougher rules on working in the UK after graduation.

When it comes to masters courses in the geotechnical sector, most universities have historically attracted some students from outside the UK, but the number varies from year to year and from university to university.

Typically, overseas students make up around one third of an average intake. At Imperial College London, however, around 75% of the students on the soil mechanics MSc course cluster are from outside the UK, 40% are from within the EU and 35% from elsewhere. And the university says it has noticed a substantial increase in applications over the last few years from overseas students, particularly from China.

This reflects a general trend in the higher education sector, with the number of students coming from China to study in the UK increasing rapidly over the last five or six years. A total of around 100,000 undergraduates and postgraduates from China are currently enrolled in UK universities; more than all EU countries added together, and vastly more than the US, India, Hong Kong and Nigeria, each of which supplies around 20,000 students a year to the UK.

Most geotechnical masters courses experience fluctuations in the number of applications, with dips in UK-based applications often compensated for by overseas students.

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When it comes to masters courses in the geotechnical sector, most universities have historically attracted some students from outside the UK, but the number varies from year to year and from university to university.

One of the longest to survive is the MSc in engineering geology at Leeds University, which this year celebrates its 50th year. “The numbers have fluctuated, and the course was at risk five or six years ago, when we only had a handful of students,” says course admissions tutor and lecturer Mark Thomas. “But numbers have been very buoyant since then, and we have 33 students this year.”

The University of Leeds was named University of the Year 2017 in The Times and The Sunday Times’ Good University Guide, which has given an uplift to applications across all disciplines, according to Thomas.

But one of the main reasons for the popularity of the MSc specifically is its success rate in converting qualifications to employment.

“We’re getting students from universities that haven’t traditionally applied to Leeds before, and they are saying it’s because this is where there is the most likelihood of getting a job,” says Thomas.

A survey of last year’s engineering geology MSc graduates found that 90% of them had found a job, the majority with consultants; and over half of this year’s intake already have offers.

“In the last three years, over 70% of graduates have gone to consultants in the engineering or environmental sectors, and last year it was over 80%,” says Thomas.

Key to the high graduate employment rate, says Thomas, is the influence of an industry advisory board, which ensures the course content is relevant to employers.

Advisory board members also provide sponsorship for students on the course, and support with the research projects that are a key component of the MSc.

Close collaboration between academia and industry is also at the heart of City University’s MSc in temporary works and construction method engineering, which launched last autumn. The course – which can be taken either full or part time – was developed in conjunction with the Temporary Works Forum (TWF), whose members act as visiting lecturers and provide co-supervision for research projects.

“The course has taken off because it’s something industry has come to us and asked for,” explains Andrew McNamara, who is director of the TWF Centre of Excellence in Temporary Works and Construction Method Engineering at City University. “It is something they see as being of real value.”

The initial intake of 10 students will enter their second year in September, and another 10 to 15 students will be enrolled in the first year. The course is intended for people who already have some experience in the industry, and most of the first tranche of students work for main contractors or specialist subcontractors who are sponsoring them to do the MSc.

“The average is graduate plus around five years,” says McNamara. “They are on the course because they understand the value of it – not just to pick up the necessary MSc to get chartered.”

The TWF has entered into a five year partnership with City to get the MSc up and running, and contribute to research temporary works.

“We have just established our first PhDs funded by the TWF,” says McNamara.

The TWF’s commitment to the MSc indicates a desire to tackle the skills shortage on a broader scale at a time when more engineers and geotechnical specialists are required than ever before.

The infrastructure sector is now an attractive option, and major projects are providing employment for graduates when other industries are declining.

Leeds, for example, saw a reduction in student numbers on its engineering geology masters course, when the oil and gas industry went into decline.

But that has now been more than offset by students who know there could be work for the next 20 or 30 years on major infrastructure projects. And the University of Birmingham has experienced an increase in applications as work has geared up on High Speed 2 (HS2).

The university says more companies are now supporting students through its two geotechnical engineering MSc courses, because they either need geotechnical engineers to cope with HS2 workload, or because they have been drawn to the city by the project.

This pipeline of major infrastructure projects may be enough to cushion universities from some of the effects of Brexit. But the key, it seems, is closer collaboration between academia and the industry.


Cardiff University

MSc Applied Environmental Geology
This full-time course accredited by the Geological Society of London has two distinct stages. The first lasts from September to April and comprises taught modules and fieldwork with contributions from industry professionals. Themes covered include principles of geotechnical engineering and geophysics, land contamination, environmental regulation, and behaviour of soils and water. Students passing this stage will progress to a five month professional project from May to September culminating in a dissertation. Where possible this will be carried out through an industrial placement. The course encourages communication and teamwork, and students will be asked to work in teams in laboratories and on field-trips.
Peter Brabham
Tel: 029 2087 4334


Imperial College London

MSc Soil Mechanics (single subject or with Environmental Geotechnics, Engineering Seismology, or Business Management, or sustainable development)
Established in 1950, the multi-accredited soil mechanics MSc cluster at Imperial has become internationally renowned. It can be undertaken as a single-subject masters or combined with a second subject. The course is concerned with the application of soil mechanics in engineering practice; and is known for making key advances in soil mechanics. It comprises two terms of lectures, tutorials, laboratory classes and individual coursework assignments, plus one term devoted to a research dissertation.
The programme also includes three field trips; one weekend in the autumn term and one weekend in the spring term to investigate engineering geology and geotechnical issues in two distinct areas of the UK as well as a one-week study tour in the beginning of the summer term visiting projects in southern Europe. The dissertation may be undertaken at college or in collaboration with industry.
This course is available full-time over 11 months from October or part-time on term release only. Between five and 10 bursaries are awarded to successful applicants on excellent academic and professional records, supported by relevant references and a strong personal statement. Priority is given to UK-based applicants. Deadline is 31 May.
Stavroula Kontoe
Tel: 020 7594 5996

Newcastle University

MSc Geotechnical Engineering
Students will gain advanced knowledge of: soils and rocks and their engineering properties; site investigation, testing, interpretation and reporting; construction practice and awareness of safe operation; key aspects of geotechnical design, such as foundations and slopes; application of mathematical methods and computational tools. The multi-accredited course includes compulsory modules plus optional modules, followed by a research project written up as a dissertation.
The teaching methods include more formal teaching alongside group work, laboratory work, fieldwork and site visits.
Academic secretary
Tel: 0191 208 6418

MSc Engineering Geology
Multi-accredited, this course covers: engineering geology principles and applications; site investigation, testing, interpretation and reporting processes; analysing diverse geological evidence to assess hazards and risks arising from natural and man-made phenomena; and geotechnical design. Students will study compulsory and optional modules in blocks of one or two weeks. Assessment is by formal written examinations, course work and oral presentations. Research projects will be written up as dissertations. Teaching methods include contributions from prominent construction industry figures.
Academic secretary
Tel: 0191 208 6418


University of Birmingham

MSc Geotechnical Engineering
This programme has been running since 1956 and is offered full-time over 12 months or part-time over 24 or 36 months. The programme includes lectures, design studies, laboratory classes, a site visit and individual projects. In addition, external lectures are provided by experts and leaders from industry. Subjects covered include: physical, chemical and mechanical properties of soils and rocks; ground investigation; field and laboratory testing; engineering geology and site investigation; analysis, design and construction of foundations, retaining walls, tunnels, embankments and slopes including methods of ground reinforcement and improvement. The research project allows for detailed study into a particular area of geotechnical engineering and can focus upon laboratory testing, numerical modelling or management of geotechnical processes/applications.
Alastair Moyes
Tel: 0121 414 5089

MSc Geotechnical Engineering and Management
This programme is designed to support high level training and enhance the technical and managerial skills of recent graduates or experienced personnel who work in, or aspire to a career in, the construction or related industries.
It is aimed at civil engineers and geologists who wish to widen their professional scope or to specialise in geotechnical engineering with the addition of modern managerial skills. Teaching concentrates on four essential aspects of the subject: physical, chemical and mechanical properties of soils and rocks, ground investigation, field and laboratory testing; engineering geology and site investigation; analysis, design and construction of foundations, retaining walls, embankments and slopes including methods of ground reinforcement and improvement; managerial skills for the construction industry, including groundworks and risk manage- ment, and building information modelling.
Alastair Moyes
Tel: 0121 414 5089


University of Dundee

MSc Geotechnical Engineering
This full-time, 12 month course is multi-accredited and supported by the Scottish Funding Council and Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre in the form of full scholarships with industry-linked projects. It covers subjects including oil and gas, marine renewables and aquaculture; foundation design; earthquake engineering; and ground improvement. The course is assessed by coursework and examination.
Andrew Brennan
Tel: 01382 384348


University of Exeter

MSc Geotechnical Engineering
Offered full-time over one year, or part-time over two or four years, this research-led course is modular and flexible. The full-time programme begins in September and taught elements are concluded by May. The research project, under the personal supervision of an expert in the chosen area, continues until September. The programme is delivered through a mix of lectures, workshops, tutorials, practical activities, case studies, industry visits, computer simulations, project work and a dissertation. The taught part of the programme is structured into two semesters.

Field visits and practical field-based assignments are used.
Camborne School of Mines
Tel: 01392 724061

MSc Applied Geotechnics
This Engineering Council-accredited one year full-time or three-year part-time course provides specialist knowledge of tunnel, surface and underground excavation design and applied hydrogeology and risk assessment.
It is research and practice-led with the taught programme structured in two terms with field visits. The project is undertaken from June to September, after the second semester examinations. Completed dissertations must be submitted by mid-September.
Camborne School of Mines
Tel: 01326 371801

MSc Mining Engineering
This Engineering Council-accredited one year full-time or three-year part-time course provides skill enhancement for engineers and geologists already employed in the mining, minerals, quarrying and civil engineering industries. It is also suitable for geology and engineering graduates wishing to specialise in either of the following main study areas: mine and general management; excavation (geotechnics and tunnelling. It is research and practice-led with the taught programme structured in two terms with field visits. Students are encouraged to undertake projects directly linked with industry, which may result in industrial placements for their project period.
Camborne School of Mines
Tel: 01326 371801


University of Leeds

MSc Engineering Geology
The one year full-time or two year part-time, multi-accredited engineering geology course gives a grounding in geological principles and their application in civil and mining engineering. The course comprises two terms of lectures (class and computer-based practical work) and laboratory classes, followed by around four months of individual work, leading to the submission of a dissertation.
Students will also take part in supervised fieldtrips and ground investigation and construction site visits. The course includes seminars given by colleagues from professional practice, and site visits that allow students to see current practice in the field.
Postgraduate admissions
Tel: 0113 343 8109


University of Portsmouth

MSc Civil Engineering with Geotechnical Engineering
One year full-time or two year part-time accredited course designed to extend understanding of the core disciplines of civil engineering and widen professional scope to include expertise in geotechnical engineering.
The course is divided into three stages, the first two stages are generally taught through formal tuition, with stage three covering independent research in an academic or industrial setting. Teaching will focus on small lectures, seminars and discussion groups.
School of Civil Engineering and Surveying
Tel: 023 9284 5566

MSc Engineering Geology
This one year full-time or two year part-time course is accredited by the Geological Society of London. It provides students with advanced skills to carry out detailed investigations into surface and subsurface geology, identification of adverse ground conditions and the design of suitable remedial measures for engineering structures. The course is divided into two parts. The first part comprises the lecture, workshop, practical and field work elements of the course, followed by a five-month independent research project.
The course is a mixture of taught units and research project covering topics including site investigation, soil mechanics and rock mechanics, geotechnical engineering design, contaminated land, slope stability and rock engineering.
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Tel: 023 9284 5566

MSc Environmental Geology and Contamination
This one year full-time or two year part-time course is designed to provide students with expertise required for dealing with contaminated sites and covers topics including: groundwater hydrology, geochemistry, site investigation, geotechnics and contaminated land assessment. The course is divided into three parts. The first two comprise the taught units of the course covering the key conceptual, institutional and applied bases of the subject. The third focuses on a dissertation.
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Tel: 023 9284 5566

University of Surrey

MSc Advanced Geotechnical Engineering
This European-accredited programme aims to enable students to address real-world ground engineering problems and the technological challenges faced every day by the geotechnical engineering profession. This programme is studied over one academic year (full-time) and between two and five academic years (part-time or distance learning).
It consists of eight taught modules and a dissertation.
Tel: 01483 682222

University of Warwick

MSc Tunnelling and Underground Space
This multi-accredited course is offered full-time over 12 months or part-time over two years. It is made up of eight core modules and a project. For full-time students, the project is a piece of group design giving excellent preparation for industry. Part-time students undertake an individual project.
Contact time for each module is in one week, Monday to Friday, enabling part-time students to continue working, and also enabling people working in industry to take single modules as a short course. Some scholarships and bursary options are available.
Postgraduate office
Tel: 024 7652 2046



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