Welcome to the UK Website of the EFCE-Working Party on Education
It is intended to give details of the education of chemical engineers in the UK for those not familiar with the system. This generally conforms to the EFCE Bologna Recommendations. The details do, of course, vary in the different universities.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is made up of 4 countries with some variation in laws and the education system. In particular, Scotland has its own laws, currency and some important differences in arrangements for education. However, once at university, the overall pattern of chemical engineering is much the same. The following is the most common pattern for UK students who become chemical engineers.
Compulsory education begins at 5 years old in a primary school. At the age of 11 children move to a secondary school, where they study for the General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSE) (or an equivalent qualification in Scotland) and at the age of 16 enter what is called "sixth form" which may be at the secondary school, or in a separate "Sixth Form College" for two years, to take "A-levels" which represent advanced studies in particular subjects.
The GCSEs have compulsory English, Mathematics and Science. More able students can take more subjects, including Biology, Chemistry and Physics as separate subjects, arts, humanities, languages, business studies. They are graded A to G (where G is the lowest pass) and A* for exceptionally good. An achievement of at least C in English and Mathematics is required for entry into university. A grade of C or above in the GCSE is normally required to study a subject for A-level.
The A-levels are a two-year course, though it is possible to take an AS-level which is essentially half an A-level in one year. Students wishing to go to university normally study 3 (or more) A-levels. For chemical engineering, Mathematics and Chemistry are normally required, along with either Physics or Biology. Many students take an additional one or two A-levels or AS-levels.
Students in Scotland may take 5 subjects at what is called "Higher" level, roughly equivalent to AS-levels, and go to a Scottish University. They may study 3 or more subjects for a further year at "Advanced Higher" level, roughly equivalent to A-levels to enter an (e.g.) English university, or to enter the second year of a Scottish university.
Some schools offer the International Baccalaureate which can be accepted for university entry.
Entry to University
Students apply for up to 5 degree courses through a centralized service called UCAS. Normally this is before they have taken their A-level exams. The university makes a conditional offer, which for chemical engineering is typically ABB in Mathematics, Chemistry and another suitable subject, most often Physics. The student can firmly accept one offer and add another as "insurance". If the students meet the offer, the university must accept them. If they do not, the university may choose to accept if the course is not full and the grades are a near miss. If rejected, the student is considered by the insurance university. If still not placed, there is a service called "clearing" which deals with all the places in all subjects which are not filled. Students may decide to take a different subject at a different university, or may re-take the A-levels and apply next year.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, UK and EU students have to pay a tuition fee of up to £9000 a year (the full amount for most chemical engineering degrees) but the government provides this as a loan. It is paid to the university, but the student will have to pay it back eventually by a tax when earning a sufficient salary. In addition, students can apply for a loan each year to pay for living costs, which will also be paid back eventually. Students from households with a low income may apply for a grant (which does not have to be paid back) towards living costs.
In Scotland, Scottish students pay no tuition fee and are entitled to loans and grants as above. Other UK students pay the tuition fees. Students from other EU countries also pay no tuition fees, but are not eligible for loans and grants.
At universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, students study for 3 years to obtain a Bachelor degree (BEng for chemical engineering) or 4 years for an MEng. Many universities offer a preliminary year, known as a Foundation Year, in Science and/or Engineering for students without the right match of subjects or at a sufficiently high level. This is roughly equivalent to the first year of a Scottish university course, which takes 4 years for BEng and 5 for MEng.
The majority of UK chemical engineering students now study for 4 years to obtain an integrated Master's degree, MEng. However, this is not the final qualification, which is only granted after some years of professional practice and demonstration of competence, which is explained below under Accreditation.
Normally the first two years of BEng and MEng are the same. They include consolidation of basic science and mathematics, plus the basic concepts of chemical engineering such as mass and energy balances and unit operations, and relevant applications, notably heat transfer, mass transfer, fluid flow and reaction engineering. Unlike some other countries, the idea of design is brought in at an early stage. Progression onto the third year of the MEng normally requires higher marks than progression on the BEng. The third and final year of the BEng will have few if any options, whereas MEng students may elect to study some specialist topics over their final two years. A substantial design project is carried out in the 3rd year of the BEng and the 3rd or 4th year of the MEng. MEng students also carry out a research project and produce a dissertation.
Students may spend a year in industry between years 2 and 3 or 3 and 4 of the degree, which is sometimes called a "sandwich" degree course. Many universities offer the possibility of taking one year of the course (usually 3rd year of an MEng) at a university in another country, and offer European language classes to support this. However, the numbers taking this year abroad are quite limited.
Most universities operate on a system of two semesters of 15 weeks. Courses are given in modules, totalling 120 credits per year, the equivalent of 60 ECTS credits. The details vary with universities but it is possible to progress and gain a degree with at least 100 credits per year.
UK students have degrees awarded in a classification known as honours. In general terms an overall grade of 70% will give a degree with first class honours, 50% second class honours, with 60% being "upper second" or 2.1 honours and 50% being "lower second" or 2.2 honours. 45% may give third class and 40% a degree without honours, sometimes called a pass degree or ordinary degree. Getting less than 50% in MEng would normally result in the award of BEng.
Graduates with a 2.1 honours MEng or MSc (or sometimes a first class BEng) may study for MPhil (2 years) or PhD or DPhil (3-4 years).
Engineering qualifications including degrees are accredited by a national body called the Engineering Council. The Institution of Chemical Engineers carries out the process under the authority of the Engineering Council. This involves a visit by 3 trained accreditors, including at least one academic and one engineer from industry to examine the course content, methods of delivery and standards of assessment. It is particularly important that there is a good design project and specific attention is paid to safety and environmental issues. Normally a BEng degree with honours would be accredited as meeting the academic educational requirements for the status of Incorporated Engineer (IEng), and the MEng degree for Chartered Engineer (CEng). A BEng graduate may also gain the higher educational standing by taking an appropriate MSc.
The graduate with BEng or MEng can apply for IEng or CEng after several years of professional practice. This requires the demonstration of competence and responsibility via a refereed training and experience report and an interview with two senior engineers. This is then the final qualification, and enables the individual to be placed on the professional register of the Engineering Council.
The IChemE also accredits degree courses in other countries.
There are degree courses in chemical engineering accredited by the IChemE at 20 universities in England, 5 in Scotland, 1 in Wales and 1 in Northern Ireland. Here are the details. A total of 2201 students entered these courses in 2012, and the number is expected to be more in 2013.
IChemE. last update 25 September 2013
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