Latest research and reports
Why do students choose engineering? Investigating what really influences students
Published: December 2023
Our new report sought to identify the key decision-making factors for undergraduate students to choose engineering.
There are many studies surveying the perception and attitudes of young people in school towards engineering careers that are positive in nature- yet there seems to be little increase in the number of young people choosing engineering in higher education. This work sought to better understand these perceptions by taking a different view - surveying undergraduates who had already made the decision to study engineering to understand the factors which lead to their decision making.
- A real interest in engineering
- A real interest in how things are made
- Awareness of ‘engineering’ the subject
- Enjoying engineering
- Engineering role models
- Liking their D&T teacher
- Receiving engineering-specific careers advice
- Choosing engineering over STM
- Belief that engineering can make a difference in the world
- An ambitious mindset
The study revealed five central findings:
- Building awareness, understanding and knowledge, allows young people to make an informed decision when choosing to study engineering. Awareness of ‘engineering’ as a subject for formal study or learning remains significantly low, with less than half of STM students (48%) and almost three quarters of arts and humanities students (71%) saying that they knew nothing about engineering during their early school years. Three in ten of those who actually took engineering courses (31%) also knew nothing about it.
- Both school and home environments play crucial roles in nurturing interest in engineering and showcasing the breadth of careers on offer.
- D&T remains a key conduit to engineering in the school curriculum and for many students it provides an early exposure to engineering as a subject.
- As part of the decision-making journey to study engineering, many students initially focused on studying sciences more generally. With further exposure to engineering they discovered greater affinity with the subject.
- While this study identified many of the factors that shape young people’s consideration of engineering, there remains a wider range of social, economic and personal factors that inform and influence students’ decision-making.
Sustainability in Engineering Higher Education Project
Empowering engineers with the skillsets to address the challenges created by climate change
requires adapting both the technological and pedological frameworks used in engineering education. The Royal Academy of Engineering, working with partners across higher education, the engineering profession and engineering industry, aims to transform engineering education – what is taught and how to set sustainability as a critical context for learning and engineering practice.
This will produce engineering graduates who are able to reflect on and think critically about the active role of engineering in shaping a sustainable future. It will produce leaders of change, able to apply their knowledge to protect the environment while contributing toward the creation of an inclusive and more equitable society.
This project has three core strands:
- Supporting the PEIs to change practice in the accreditation of engineering higher education courses.
- Supporting the academic community to scale up best practice. This will include developing practical resources, currently through our upcoming Reimagined Degree Map, and subsequently a Sustainability Toolkit.
- Providing advocacy support and championing for change within the education and skills system.
Phase 1 of the workstream has focused upon developing communities of practice and academic resources.
The current phase of the Sustainability in Engineering Higher Education project is focused upon influence and impact –utilising the Academy’s position as a thought leader to lead a business case for change, alongside the development of key resources for engineering educators.
We have been carrying this out through our Systems Change Labs, a series of engagement events that will run until March 2024 with representation from all the groups who shape engineering degrees, to drive purpose-driven collaboration for both our resources and communities of practice.