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Atkins Rail Integrated Design Management MSc launches at UCL

10 February 2012

The Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) has announced that it is launching an MSc entitled Atkins Rail Integrated Design Management in partnership with construction firm Atkins.

Atkins employees and UCL staff celebrate the creation of a new MSc

Image: UCL and Atkins staff celebrate following the signing of a memorandum of understanding by Michael Worton, Vice-Provost (International) and David Tonkin, Atkins UK Managing Director (for full caption see bottom of article).

Commencing in September 2012, the part-time Masters course will be available exclusively to Atkins employees for the first year. However, it is hoped that modules from the programme will be opened up to UCL students from 2013 onwards.

The MSc has been designed to give experienced members of Atkins staff a multi-disciplinary understanding of their industry – vital in a time when clients are increasingly expecting ‘the total package’ rather than hiring different contractors to each take care of one aspect of a project.

Many of the 15 students in the first year’s intake will not be graduates, having built up their experience and knowledge over the course of many years’ on-the-job training. The hope is that by gaining an advanced understanding of the other disciplines within their industry, they will be able to progress into senior management.

Bob Hutchison, Technical Director for Atkins Rail Solutions Business, explains that the idea came about because he wanted the in-house training being given to his staff to carry externally recognised accreditation.

“There were relevant Masters courses out there but they were aimed at a wider audience,” says Hutchison. “We wanted a rail-orientated course specifically designed for Atkins, so we decided to produce our own MSc.”

A strong relationship between UCL and Atkins already existed – a number of engineering lecturers at the university are former Atkins employees and CEGE regularly sends students for work placements at the company – so the collaboration was a natural decision on both parts.

Hutchison says, “We wanted a course that was robust, rigorous and of a standard that would be recognised internationally, and that’s why we thought of UCL. This is a big leap of faith for us but UCL is one of the best universities in the world and has credibility within the industrial fraternity which will ensure that our MSc is truly valuable.”

For CEGE’s Professor Richard Simons, who masterminded the project alongside Hutchison, the prospect of collaboration was equally appealing. “Atkins is one of the largest consultancies in the world and we’ve had links with them for many years,” he says.

“The close relationship that will result from this partnership will mean that we can achieve things we’ve never even thought about before.”

For starters, working with Atkins will allow CEGE an insight into cutting-edge engineering developments, which will inform scenario-based learning and teaching for both undergraduates and postgraduates. Simons has also been approached by Atkins staff seeking to employ graduates.

The international nature of Atkins’ work offers its own benefits. “Because Atkins is a global organisation, they are planning to deliver some of their courses by distance learning,” says Simons. “Universities will increasingly be looking in that direction and there’s an opportunity for Atkins to be piloting ideas that we may subsequently be able to adopt. They could genuinely break new ground for us.”

Whether UK-based or abroad, students will be expected to carry out the personal study aspect of the MSc in their own time while also doing their normal jobs at Atkins, so it is expected that the course will take between three and five years to complete.

All of the modules but one will be taught by Atkins staff. However, the only teaching experience most of them have has been gained through running in-house training, so the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT)’s Elizabeth Grant, principal school-facing teaching fellow for BEAMS, has hosted a series of teaching workshops and seminars.

Tracy Milne, a human factors specialist who will be teaching on the MSc, says that she went to the course feeling apprehensive about developing a module from scratch. “When I started looking at my material I was just thinking about interesting tasks I could give the students. The most useful element of what Elizabeth taught us was that you should start with your learning objectives and then work back from that,” Milne says.

“She also suggested that we give the students reflective tasks. I would never have thought about doing that. It’s great to know that we’ve got support and that if we’re not sure about anything we can run it past Elizabeth.”

Both Hutchison and Simons believe that this two-way relationship between universities and industry is going to become increasingly important in the future. “I think industry has to become more attuned to the learning process,” says Hutchison. “When I was young, you could work your way up a company through apprenticeships, but those sorts of schemes aren’t really available anymore so universities are our only source of future employees. Collaboration is the only logical way forward.”

Similarly, Simons argues, “We have to get our students employed – and for that to happen, they’ve got to have been doing things that are relevant to their future employers. We may have worked in the industry five, 10, 15 years ago – things have moved on. Industry knows where it wants to be in five years' time, so companies such as Atkins have got the insight to help us educate students in the right way.”

And this is only the beginning. Simons says, “I don’t see this as an isolated case. There are other firms who will be watching this development with interest.”

It would seem that industry-university partnerships will form an increasingly typical characteristic of the UCL of tomorrow.

By Ele Cooper

Image caption, from left to right: Mark Cowlard, Managing Director Atkins Rail Solutions Business; Professor Anthony Finkelstein, Dean of Engineering Sciences; Professor Michael Worton, Vice-Provost (International); David Tonkin, Atkins UK Managing Director; Bob Hutchison, Technical Director, Atkins Rail Solutions Business; Laura Bateman, Project Manager, Atkins Rail Solutions Business; Professor Richard Simons, CEGE Director of Knowledge Exchange; Marco Federighi, Vice-Dean (Education) and Faculty Tutor

Page last modified on 10 feb 12 16:47

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