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MSc courses: Future proofing skills

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The industry needs more specialist technical skills to fill the gap but are UK universities offering the right MSc course content to ensure we future proof the sector?

In July last year, the Institution of Civil Engineers reported the findings of its Professional Skills survey which explored current and emerging skills needs for civil engineers. The survey found that more technical skills were required, including in the geotechnical and tunnelling sectors. But are UK universities designing MSc courses to meet the future needs of the industry?

“In geotechnics, traditionally people have completed masters to specialise in their area and I think that academia needs to ensure that we are delivering on specialist technical skills,” says Warwick University associate professor and course director for tunnelling and underground space Alan Bloodworth.

“Courses should meet the needs of industry, with funding and bursaries, as well as be available part-time for those who are working.”

Warwick’s MSc Tunnelling and Underground Space course was established in 2011 and applications have been increasing year on year.

According to Bloodworth, the course at Warwick is unique with between a third and a half of students enrolled on the course already having experience of working in tunnelling and looking to further their career.

Elon Musk has definitely helped. If we look at his interests – space travel, electric cars and tunnelling – to have those three areas associated is great to be honest.

“We have the support of the British Tunnelling Society and have been seeing a slow increase of around 20% each year in the number of students applying since the course began,” says Bloodworth. “Tunnelling is definitely becoming more popular.”

With more tunnelling specialists needed worldwide, could we be on the cusp of tunnelling revolution in terms of popularity? Bloodworth thinks so.

“Elon Musk has definitely helped,” he says. “If we look at his interests – space travel, electric cars and tunnelling – to have those three areas associated is great to be honest. If tunnelling is next to space travel, then it is going to be attractive and more exciting.

“Undoubtably Musk has created a lot of interest and if he can reduce the costs of tunnelling then it makes many projects potentially viable, such as Hyperloop. We will have some MSc students looking at innovate ways to reduce the costs of tunnelling as part of their projects this year.

“For Warwick, it is about making sure that our MSc graduates are prepared. It isn’t just all theory. We teach management and professional skills, as well the specialist technical skills for tunnelling which look to be in greater demand than ever.”

Leeds University engineering geology programme leader Mark Thomas reports that although there are plenty of jobs available for their MSc Engineering Geology course graduates, the academic pathways for geology undergraduates just aren’t there anymore.

“There are very few students studying geosciences at undergraduate level, and actually A-Level too,” explains Thomas. “The number of students doing geology at A-Level has plummeted and I’ve been told that this is down to a change in the GCSE geography curriculum which means that students just aren’t studying it anymore.

We don’t change the courses according student whim. We design the course around what the student will need when they have finished, and we tweak.

“The students who would come through to geosciences from the geology part of a geography GCSE isn’t happening. It is not on the radar of many students in the UK.

“It’s strange as the number of jobs available is huge. We are turning out students that the industry need, but there is something lost in translation. There are plenty of jobs there, but not a clear pathway to them.”

Similar to Warwick, Leeds University is seeing a lot of students returning to study after being in work for a few years and they are highly motivated.

“Historically we might have had students come in and be interested but not necessarily want to work in the industry,” says Thomas. “This year we have found that they all very focused and all want a job in ground engineering.

“After the first few months, they all had a clear idea on what they wanted to do.”

Thomas puts this down to the split of students – those who are fresh graduates and those who are coming from industry.

“We have a 70/30 split with the latter being students completing their second MSc or people who have worked in the ground engineering for three or four years before returning to study,” says Thomas.

“Last year we had a relatively large proportion of students who were returning to study after working in the industry for two or three years and that really did pull the cohort up. It was an exceptional year.

“It makes a huge difference. The more recent graduates who haven’t worked in industry can see how the MSc is a useful addition to their CV,” adds Thomas.

The University of Portsmouth has found similar benefits of the class made up of different types of students.

“The dynamics of the class are very different and we like it,” explains University of Portsmouth MSc programme manager Malcolm Whitworth. “You might have a mature geoscientist from a different sector and quite a few recent graduates mixed with part time students who are already working in the industry.

“It is a very dynamic learning environment when everybody is contributing. It is easier to teach, helps students to learn and makes the teaching much more interesting,” says Whitworth. “They support and mentor each other and there is more peer support. That is really beneficial.”

At Surrey University chair in geomechanics Suby Bhattacharya has designed the MSc in Advanced Geotechnical Engineering around what the sector is looking for to ensure graduates are industry-ready.

“When I spoke to some of the stakeholders and firms in 2013 and 2014, I found there wasn’t a MSc course that dealt with the current requirements of the profession,” explains Bhattacharya.

The Surrey course has proved successful with applications numbers increasing from a good mix of ages, genders and UK and international students, according to Bhattacharya.

We want to meet the student demand, but also want the students to be able to get jobs

“Students are required to complete eight modules, of which four must be ground engineering subjects, and a further four modules which can be chosen from other relevant MScs run by Surrey. This helps widen their horizons.

“We will return to industry this summer and ask again if the course is meeting the requirements of the profession. We want to ensure the course remains relevant.”

At the University of Portsmouth it has designed courses to be more attractive to students.

“We found that students wanted to study a broader environmental course when numbers started to fall on its MSc contaminated land course,” says Whitworth. “We redesigned and relaunched the course five years ago to MSc Environmental Geology and Contamination to attract more students.

“It is now part of a much broader environmental assessment and contaminated land is just part of that. I think students want to study a much broader environment course.”

Using two matrices – one for viability of the course including student numbers, and one for employability, the university Portsmouth will decide which courses to offer.

“We are driven by student demand,” says Whitworth. “But it sometimes might not be what the sector wants. If students don’t want it, then we won’t deliver it.

“We want to meet the student demand, but also want the students to be able to get jobs,” adds Whitworth.

At Surrey Bhattacharya uses a similar matrix with an industry advisory board. “We discuss what the big things going on in the industry are, such as high-speed rail and offshore wind, and we ask what skills they would want from someone working on these projects,” he says.

“We then map these on a skills matrix and what we are teaching and not teaching. We also map where we can slot into the syllabus or as workshops or a keynote lecture.”

Whitworth explains that at Portsmouth, the courses are reviewed once every five years and they return to basics and review every aspect of the course, taking advice from industry and academic partners to ensure that every topic is still relevant.

There are very few students studying geosciences at undergraduate level, and actually A-Level too

“We don’t change the courses according student whim. We design the course around what the student will need when they have finished, and we tweak.

“We have found that students want internships, placements and opportunities to work with industry partners,” says Whitworth. “The students are keenly aware that they need to get this experience and industry support.

“At Portsmouth we don’t ask for money from industry, but rather in-kind support with experience for the students, adds Whitworth.

So, what are the future trends that Surrey’s Bhattacharya believes will be next the big thing in the industry and the skills that graduates will require?

“You need to look at the needs of a country,” he explains. “Basically, ageing bridges, ageing railway lines, ageing waterways and ageing tunnels that were built in the 1950s and 1960s. The number of users has gone up too and the concrete has degraded.

“Money is tight and we need to decide what we maintain. You might have 20 bridges, but only money for three and we need to prioritise.

“We might develop part of the course to look a to look at this – how to define, how to focus, how to prioritise resources. This will be one of the big things coming up, the monitoring of assets and how we use that data.

“We will design the course to include those skills, to ensure that graduates are prepared and one step ahead of the game,” adds Bhattacharya.

Course Listings 

Cardiff University

MSc Applied Environmental Geology

This full-time course accredited by the Geological Society of London for C.Geol has two distinct stages. The first lasts from September to April and comprises taught modules, labs and fieldwork with contributions from industry professionals. Topics include: creating an initial conceptual ground model, environmental / engineering geophysics, geotechnical / geomorphological mapping, principles of geotechnical engineering (soils and rocks), site investigation techniques, contaminated land assessment, environmental regulation and the circular economy. Students passing this stage will then progress to a five-month research dissertation project from May to September, usually in collaboration with an industrial company partner. This Masters level programme strongly promotes professional key skills training and teamwork, for some group exercises students work in professional company teams to deliver a brief.

Peter Brabham
029 2087 4830
brabham@cardiff.ac.uk

Imperial College London

MSc Soil Mechanics (single subject or with Environmental Geotechnics, Engineering Seismology or Business Management)

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, integrating core engineering science and recent research with practical applications. It comprises two terms of lectures, tutorials, laboratory classes and individual coursework assignments, plus one term devoted to a research dissertation. 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 over two years 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.

Stavroula Kontoe
020 7594 5996
stavroula.kontoe@imperial.ac.uk

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
0191 2085877
SoE.PGT.GEST@ncl.ac.uk

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
0191 2085877
SoE.PGT.GEST@ncl.ac.uk

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.

School of Engineering Postgraduate Admissions Team
0121 414 5089
pg-admissions-eng@contacts.bham.ac.uk

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 management, and building information modelling.

School of Engineering Postgraduate Admissions Team
0121 414 5089
pg-admissions-eng@contacts.bham.ac.uk

University of Dundee

MSc Geotechnical Engineering

This full-time 12-month course is multi-accredited and supported by a number of full scholarships with industry-linked projects (details on course website). 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
01382 384348
a.j.brennan@dundee.ac.uk

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
01326 371801
cornwall@exeter.ac.uk

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
01326 371801
cornwall@exeter.ac.uk

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
01326 371801
cornwall@exeter.ac.uk

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 field trips 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
0113 343 4307
apply-masters@see.leeds.ac.uk

University of Portsmouth

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 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. 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. All our courses include subject relevant residential field courses and one-day site visits. We encourage and support all our students to participate in work related activities as part of their studies (such as internships, placements or industry focused projects).

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
023 9284 5566
admissions@port.ac.uk

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, environmental assessment, GIS spatial data analysis, geotechnics and contaminated land assessment. The course is divided into three parts.The first part comprises the lecture, workshop, practical and field work elements of the course, followed by a five-month independent research project. All our courses include subject relevant residential field courses and one-day site visits. We encourage and support all our students to participate in work related activities as part of their studies (such as internships, placements or industry focused projects).

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
023 9284 5566
admissions@port.ac.uk

MSc Geological and Environmental Hazards
This one year full-time or two year part-time course is accredited by the Geological Society of London. The course is a mixture of taught units and research project covering topics including hurricanes, flooding, contamination, landsliding, earthquakes and volcanoes, hazard and risk assessment techniques, programming, GIS and remote sensing and geomechnics of soils and rocks.

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. All our courses include subject relevant residential field courses in the UK and overseas. We encourage and support all our students to participate in work related activities as part of their studies (such as internships, placements or industry focused projects).

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
023 9284 5566
admissions@port.ac.uk

University of Strathclyde

MSc Hydrogeology

This Masters programme will produce functional hydrogeologists to meet the needs of industry, regulators, government and consultants.

Hydrogeology is an important subset of Geotechnical Engineering and is a key component of water resources management required to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals and the Decade Water for Life as well as meeting the targets required from the European Water Framework Directive.

Throughout the world, the issues of water scarcity, water security, water economics, and health and sanitation all rely on high quality hydrogeology knowledge.

The MSc involves a curriculum of eight compulsory classes and covers topics including Aquifer Mechanics, Hydrogeology, Contaminated Land, Environmental Geochemistry, Global Water Policy, Groundwater Flow Modelling, as well as a range of optional classes, plus a dissertation.

Following successful completion of the taught component, students undertake a dissertation project, and are encouraged to complete this overseas. Our MSc course leader has extensive contacts in arid countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, the Middle East and Asia, giving valuable, varied learning opportunities and practical experience around the world.

The programme is offered 1 year full-time, 2/3 years part-time or via Distance Learning (3 years part-time). Commonwealth Scholarships for Distance Learning are currently available, from applicants from specified developing countries.

The programme is accredited by the Joint Board of Moderators as meeting the requirements for Further Learning for a Chartered Engineer (CEng).

Postgraduate Enquiries
Civeng-pgt@strath.ac.uk
0141 548 3277

MSc Civil Engineering with Geotechnical Engineering & Project Management
MSc Civil Engineering with Industry (Geotechnical Engineering & Project Management)

These Masters programmes have been designed to meet the needs of a broad range of engineering industries enabling students to gain the specialist and generic skills necessary to lead future developments. They are accredited by the Joint Board of Moderators as meeting the requirements for Further Learning for Chartered Engineer (CEng) status.

The course is suitable for graduates with a background in any discipline of civil engineering. Applicants with a degree in environmental engineering, earth science, maths, physics and mechanical engineering may also be considered.

Students graduate with an MSc in Civil Engineering or choose to follow one of four optional specialist streams which incorporate Civil Engineering and Project Management, including the Geotechnical Engineering stream.

Those following the specialist stream in Geotechnical Engineering take the class Project Management, plus three compulsory classes: Ground Improvement and Reinforcement; Rock Mechanics Tunnelling and Groundwater; and Slopes and Walls.

In addition, the MSc Civil Engineering with Industry gives the opportunity to complete an industry-linked project from June to August which allows students to design and construct field scale civil engineering structures.

The MSc Civil Engineering is offered 1 year full-time or 2/3 years part-time; while the MSc Civil Engineering with Industry is offered full-time over 18 months.

Postgraduate Enquiries
Civeng-pgt@strath.ac.uk
0141 548 3277

MRes in Geo-Environmental Engineering

This one-year research-led MRes in Geo-environmental engineering is suitable for students looking for an alternative to an MSc or those who are interested in carrying out shorter research projects and wish to tailor their studies to suit their own research interests and career objectives. The MRes is suitable for students interested in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Students benefit from our strong industrial links and an active Industrial Advisory Board which contributes to curriculum design and the overall student experience.

An MRes takes one year full-time or two years part-time to complete, and also be used as a stepping stone for students wishing to continue to an MPhil or PhD, either as a precursor or initial component of the research.

This degree combines a number of subjects including: geotechnics, microbiology, chemistry, hydrogeology.

Students complete six taught modules (four compulsory and two optional) plus a research thesis.

Our MRes students also have the option of taking “Independent Study in Collaboration with Industry”. This exciting module allows students to gain credits for work carried out with, at or for an external organisation.

The optional class “Rock Mechanics, Tunnelling and Groundwater” introduces Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) from a rock mechanics perspective and uses the world-leading Aquistore project in Canada as a case study.

Postgraduate Enquiries
Civeng-pgt@strath.ac.uk
0141 548 2827

University of Surrey

MSc Advanced Geotechnical Engineering

Keeping in mind the need of the profession, digital age and increasing drive towards flexible ways of learning, the course has been developed in collaboration with the industry and is research led teaching.

There are four compulsory modules: (1) Advanced soil mechanics; (2) Energy geotechnics (offshore wind turbine foundations, geothermal energy, nuclear power plant foundations and HLL waste disposal, carbon sequestration); (3) Soil-Structure Interaction; (4) Deep Foundation and Earth Retaining Structures. To promote inter-disciplinary thinking students choose four other modules from other MSc courses - Bridge, Infrastructure Engineering and Management, Structural and Water. There is an optional module covering soil dynamics.

The course is run full time, part time and distant learning (online) and the qualifications achieved are PGCert, PGDip and MSc.

Students also write a dissertation on an industry-linked research project and industry partners include Keller, VJ Tech, Sir Robert McAlpine, Innogy Renewables, Tony Gee, Balfour Beatty and Skanska. They also benefit from specialised lectures delivered by industry leaders, the SAGE (Surrey Advanced Geotechnical Engineering) lab and training on the use of advanced software.

Admissions
01483 682222
admissions@surrey.ac.uk

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. Modules cover a range of technical, management and professional skills required by the modern tunnelling engineer and are delivered in one-week blocks, enabling part-time students to continue working. Full-time students carry out a group design project on a realistic tunnelling scheme, giving excellent preparation for industry, and part-time students undertake an individual project that may relate to their employment.

The course is endorsed by the International Tunnelling Association and actively supported by the British Tunnelling Society, through whom many invited speakers present on the course with the aim of maintaining its industrial relevance.

Some scholarships and bursary options are available.

Postgraduate office
024 7652 2046
eng-pgadmissions@warwick.ac.uk

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