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Help the developing world

For civil engineers, solving infrastructure problems in the developing world is just as demanding – and rewarding – as solving problems in the developed world.
They are needed after earthquakes, during droughts and at times of war, to help the local population rebuild or maintain the conditions that will keep them alive. If you have a real sense of adventure and a commitment to help those in the greatest need, you could join RedR, an organisation that sends volunteers to disaster areas all over the world. www.redr.org

International opportunities

Civil engineering offers unparalleled opportunities to work overseas. By becoming professionally qualified, you will be able to enter the international workplace and work abroad for the short or long term.

Job satisfaction

The major highlight for most civil engineers is the satisfaction of seeing tangible results of their hard work, from designing and constructing Heathrow Terminal 5 to rebuilding bridges in war torn Iraq. The infrastructure civil engineers create benefits society for many years to come.

For more information on studying Civil Engineering contact: The Institution of Civil Engineersat: www.ice.org.uk




Electronics is fundamental to many of the things we take for granted today. Everything from mobile phones to aircraft and medical equipment relies on electronics, and it is difficult to think of any area of life that has not been affected by developments in electronics.

Technology, and particularly electronics, is developing at a more rapid pace than ever before. This makes the job of the Electronic Engineer both exciting and challenging, but it also means that there are great rewards for engineers, both in terms of remuneration and job satisfaction.

An International Career

Today, engineering in general - and electronics in particular - is an international business. Most of the well-known companies in electronics operate not just in several countries, but across continents, and many smaller companies depend on international trade for their business. In order to compete in this situation, companies recruit engineers from around the world. To succeed, engineers need to have internationally recognised qualifications.

Qualifications themselves are only one of the benefits to be gained from study abroad. A successful career depends on who you know as well as what you know, and the people that you study with are likely to become important contacts once you leave university. If you choose a suitable course, the people who are classmates today will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Britain has long been recognised for its success in engineering and technology innovation, and this reputation is built on an excellent education system. The engineering knowledge you gain in a British university is, of course, the same as you would in any other country, but there are differences in the way these are taught and learnt from many others. You need to be aware of these differences of approach and expectation before you start to study.

In most courses in Britain, there is a lot of emphasis placed on learning to think for yourself and study on your own. This can come as a shock to students who are used to being given all of the information they need, but independent learning skills are vital once you start a real job, solving problems that have never been encountered before. Fortunately, courses develop these skills gradually, with plenty of support available to ensure your confidence is built up.

Engineering courses in Britain are shorter than in many other countries, being three or four years in length. Most students complete the course within this time, since it is unusual for students to repeat years. So although course fees may seem high, the overall cost of study in Britain can be lower than elsewhere.

Choosing a Course

Deciding what to study and where to study it is a big decision, both in terms of time and money, and so it is vital that you choose the right course and the right university. To make the right decision you have to take account of many different factors, as outlined below.

Looking at the lists of courses available, it is easy to be confused by the wide choice, ranging from straightforward Electronic Engineering to more specialist courses, such as communications, semiconductor devices or microelectronics. There is also a wide range of joint courses, combining electronics with computer science or language studies, for instance.

An Electronic Engineering course will cover all of the key knowledge and skills required to become a successful engineer, including the skills required to rapidly become familiar with new developments, while a more specialist course may neglect some of these topics in order to cover the more specialist subjects. This can be an advantage for those wanting to follow a career in the particular specialisation, but if you do not know which specialisation would suit you best, then a more general course may be more appropriate.

Fortunately, many courses begin by covering general Electronic Engineering, but allow specialisation in later stages of the course. A typical course may be fairly general for the first two years, with specialisation available in the third and fourth years. While following a joint course will give additional skills, it will allow less time for the core electronics knowledge, and so choosing an unrelated subject can leave the graduate not fully qualified in either of the subjects contributing to the degree.

Quality Courses

Besides deciding which type of course would suit you best, it is important to choose the right university. Each university sets its own curriculum, decides the teaching methods that will be used, and the qualifications required for entry. The facilities available within each university, the qualifications of the staff, and the specialisations available will also differ. It can be difficult to know which universities will offer the best education, especially as each institution wishes to promote its own courses. Although the reputation of a university may give an indication of the quality of education, the fact that they have a good reputation does not necessarily mean that the Electronic Engineering course will be equally good. Similarly, some of the best universities for the study of electronics are not generally recognised.

In order to help choose a suitable course, there are a number of sources of independent information. The British Government established the Quality Assurance Agency to assess the quality of education provided by each university in particular subjects. In order to make these assessments, a panel of experts visit the university to observe teaching, talk to students, graduates and their employers. They then award a grade out of 24 points. The panel also produce a report covering each of the six areas of the assessment. The assessments for Electronic Engineering, involving 76 institutions, were carried out between 1996 and 1998. The reports on each institution are publicly available on the QAA Website: www.qaa.ac.uk.

A total of ten universities gained the maximum possible grade (24 out of 24), but it is important to look at the individual reports, since these specify what the courses aim to achieve. The assessment is a judgement of how well these aims are achieved.

A second factor to consider in quality of courses is accreditation by professional bodies. In the case of Electronic Engineering, this is the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE). The IEE looks at both the subject matter and the way it is taught, and can award accreditation for three different levels of course. Accredited Master of Engineering (MEng) and Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) honours courses lead eventually to chartered engineer status, while other degree courses can lead to Incorporated Engineer status. Although accreditation of a course means that it has met the required standard, if a course is not accredited this does not necessarily mean that it is not a good course. A course can only be fully accredited once students have graduated, and so it may take four to five years before a new course can be accredited. Courses that address new technologies may be very relevant to industry, but because they are new, they may not be accredited. Courses that combine electronics with other disciplines may also not be accredited because they do not contain sufficient core Electronic Engineering material, but this does not mean they are not worth considering if the subject is what you want to study.

The choice of whether to study an MEng or BEng (honours) course can be a difficult one. MEng courses tend to last four years, while BEng's are generally one year shorter. This does save money on fees and living expenses, but if your eventual aim is to gain chartered status, a further year of academic study is required following graduation from a BEng.

Your choice of university may also take account of the cost of living. This can vary a great deal depending on the location of the university. Although London, for example, has many attractions for students, the costs of accommodation, transport and food all tend to be higher than in other parts of the country. Worrying about money and the need to work can be a big distraction from your academic work.

With the choice of different subjects, course structures and universities open to students of Electronic Engineering, it can seem overwhelming. You should try to decide what you really want to get out of your course. Then look for independent information, try to talk to someone who has studied at the universities you are interested in and, if you are unsure about what a particular course involves, or whether a particular university would suit you, then contact the Department with your questions. You will be able to learn a lot from the way they answer, both about the courses and the way that they treat students.

Author: Dr Jim Gilbert, School of Engineering, University of Hull

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