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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
'Re-branding' saves engineering
Students associate engineering with declining industries
Engineering has been "re-branded" at a university in an attempt to make it more attractive to students - and is claiming a dramatic improvement in applications.

Instead of terms such as "engineering" and "industry", the University of Staffordshire prefers to use the words "technology" and "business".

You can either change the product, or you can change the name - and we've decided to keep the same core knowledge, but change the packaging

Professor Tom Ruxton, dean of the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology

When staff go into schools to encourage applications, instead of talking about "manufacturing" they say they're technologists in the business of "creating".

Engineering has suffered from a long decline in applications - leaving university engineering departments with fewer students, less money and staff and the threat of closure.

And in an attempt to reverse this trend, Staffordshire has deliberately set out to shake off associations with old-fashioned industries and to re-locate the subject alongside new technologies.


"It's a question of perception. When you say 'engineering' people think of dirty overalls, shipyards and coal mines - even though engineering is now more about high technology," said Professor Tom Ruxton.

"You can try to re-educate people about this - and there are over 400 organisations currently trying to promote engineering. But it just isn't working."

"So we've said - 'You can either change the product, or you can change the name' - and we've decided to keep the same core knowledge, but change the packaging."

And the university's re-named department - the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology - claims a revival in its fortunes, with engineering student numbers rising from a low of 450 four years ago - and a deficit of 1m - up to over 1,100 this year.

The department has increased numbers by building up links with schools - and it has been talking to pupils which has helped to shape Professor Ruxton's approach.

"We've learnt that when you talk about 'technology' and you talk about 'engineering' you get a different response.

"And if you say you work in 'business' rather than working in 'industry' - it will draw a different response, because industry sets off ideas of factories and heavy engineering."

As well as raising the profile of the subject within universities, Professor Ruxton says that the bigger picture is the importance of finding engineers for the future of the economy.

"Engineering is essential to the wealth creation of the country - and if re-badging the subject brings in students then it will be worth it."

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