EDUCATION LINKS CASE STUDY

Canterbury Engineering Education Hub

Engineers

A feasibility study into regional engineering education hubs recommended the establishment of a pilot hub focused on the electrical engineering sector.

Research report recommends pilot Canterbury hub

In 2018, Engineering e2e funded research into a pilot regional engineering hub. In their 2019 report Canterbury Engineering Hub Proposal, Professor Phil Bones and Shayne Crimp, University of Canterbury, recommended a Canterbury Engineering Education Hub focused on electrical engineering be established.
Report: Canterbury Engineering Hub Proposal

What are regional engineering hubs?

Regional Engineering Education Hubs involve employers, secondary schools, institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs), universities and industry training organisations (ITOs), working together to develop effective pathways into and within engineering study and careers. Read our info sheet to find out more:
Info sheet: Engineering Education Hubs

The proposed pilot

The pilot hub would have two main purposes. 1. Getting parties involved in engineering education in the region together, to generate pathways which facilitate the flow of learners through to qualifications and careers in engineering. 2. Acting as a one-stop shop for people to learn about pathways in engineering, with no one provider seen to have a vested interest.

The establishment of a trust to oversee Hub activities and fundraising is seen as the most likely structure.

Hub initiative begins in Canterbury

Since 2008, there had been concern in Canterbury around a decline in the number of students enrolling to study electrical engineering at Ara Institute of Canterbury and the University of Canterbury (UC). 

In 2017, a group of local engineering educators, secondary school teachers and industry representatives met in Christchurch to discuss the issue. They formed the Hub Committee to consider potential solutions to the problem; group members working on the initiative met in their free time.

Working in a hub rather than silos                              

It was observed from interviews that education providers and stakeholders have traditionally operated within ‘silos’ rather than integrated groups. “There’s often competition for funding and people are focused on their own organisations. With hubs, it’s easier to cross education barriers, reduce current or historic friction points and work towards a common education goal.”

Earlier research identified hubs as solution to addressing education ‘supply chain’ issues

The 2015 Engineering e2e-funded report Creating Engineers: Climbing the Engineering Educational Staircase identified engineering education hubs as a solution to addressing ‘supply chain’ issues in engineering. The follow-up Regional Engineering Education Hubs report (2017) recommended a pilot hub be trialled in one region, leading to the feasibility study.
Report: Creating Engineers: Climbing the Educational Staircase
Report: Regional Engineering Education Hubs

Mapping engineering education ecosystem

Phase 1 of the project involved: establishing a map and boundaries for a Canterbury Hub; researching, investigating and discussing a potential hub with interested parties; and deciding which issues could be assisted by a hub.

Potential engineering students

School-based learners

Students find NCEA Physics difficult, particularly the electrical component, which potentially creates a barrier to entering engineering study. Steering Group members with a teaching background examined the Level 2 – 3 curriculum with a view to how this subject might be modified to maintain engagement and cultivate interest.

The Group also investigated extra-curricular programmes and activities aimed at engaging primary to secondary school students with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). They found little coordination of these activities; an area, the report notes, where a Hub facilitator could make a difference.

Community-based learners

Industry representatives thought a Hub could be an opportunity for electricians and technicians to upgrade their skills and qualifications, possibly to the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) or Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech).

They talked about the hub concept to senior managers at five local companies (small to large) from across the utility, electrical contracting and communications areas of engineering. “Irrespective of the company size,” the report states, “there was overwhelming enthusiasm to support and fund the professional development of their staff, either on short courses or more formally recognised pathways.”

Under-represented learners

The Committee decided the most effective way of reaching people under-represented in engineering – notably Māori, Pasifika and women – was to collaborate with existing organisations and programmes.  Local iwi Ngāi Tahu responded positively to the suggestion a Hub facilitator be included in their strategic and educational discussions, and there is an invitation for a potential facilitator to attend the next Pasifika Engineers Forum.

Key engineering education programmes

Hub research included an analysis of key engineering education programmes – from pre-apprenticeship through to PhD level – and discussions with programme providers, employers and other stakeholders.

Pre-apprenticeship: Discussion with Ara, ETCO (The Electrical Training Company) and industry pre-apprenticeship programme managers showed an enthusiasm for collaboration, via the proposed Hub, to improve the pre-apprenticeship scheme in Canterbury.

Apprenticeship:  programme providers felt these schemes are functioning well, and indicated strong interest in upskilling students, possibly to a higher qualification, while they are still enrolled and as compatible with continuing employment and professional development.

NZDE/BEngTech: employers in the electrical power generation and distribution sector were interested in potential opportunities to upskill their workforce through the NZDE and/or BEngTech via cadetships or extended apprenticeship schemes.

BE (Hons) – PhD: given a recent increase in students enrolling in the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Electrical Engineering, it was decided that Level 8-10 programmes would be a lower priority for the Hub at this time.

Investigating potential collaboration with community groups

The Hub Committee has investigated potential collaboration with community groups. This has included programmes with Tūranga (Christchurch Public Library) about it’s creative spaces for Hub programmes.

Looking to the future

If the Canterbury Engineering Education Hub proves successful – as measured by increased numbers of students enrolling to study electrical engineering, particularly in the NZDE and BEngTech – it is likely that the scope of the Hub could be broadened to include similar strategies for other disciplines.

Our thanks to Shayne and Phil for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact engineeringe2e@tec.govt.nz

April 2019