Britain has always been a hotbed of engineering ingenuity – a quick glance around the South West will conjure up iconic names such as Brunel, Smeaton and Trevithick.
But as a nation, we now face a challenge. Amid a number of complex issues, and government pledges about increasing productivity while enhancing research excellence, the Royal Academy of Engineering has projected an annual shortfall of 20,000 graduates for the coming years.
Thus, the launch of our own School of Engineering comes at a very opportune time and could put Plymouth centre stage – both regionally and nationally – when it comes to inspiring the outstanding engineers of the future.
Many of the key challenges facing society today – such as access to sustainable development, and creating sustainable societies and economies within the context of geopolitics – are both complex and global.
Living with the impacts of climate change, and tackling the energy trilemma of security, equity and sustainability, requires collaboration to ensure technological advances and engineering solutions are fit for purpose, sustainable and will be of real value in improving people’s lives.
Engineering has always been all about finding the technological solutions to global issues, and areas where new technology is developing rapidly include big data, high performance computing, advanced materials, new energy systems and autonomous systems.
But it is imperative for engineers to work closely together with natural and human scientists, and other disciplines, to find solutions that are not only technologically proficient but also easily and widely implementable.
The UK government’s recently published Industrial Strategy highlights a desire to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth across the whole country, with the need to build on excellence in research and innovation a key component.
It stresses the need to ensure that capital, institutional influence and government attention is targeted there effectively. It also aims to boost STEM skills at all levels, and to promote the commercialisation of research by bringing together sectors and places to meet the priorities of business and the needs of society.
From a regional perspective, the recent Science and Innovation Audit commissioned by the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills identified areas of world-leading research and innovation in the South West and Wales region, including aerospace, microelectronics, energy generation, environmental technologies, and digital systems.
The South West also boasts high tech marine and marine renewables resources, with infrastructure unique in the UK, alongside pioneering research and development capacity.
In fact, it was this area that was identified as an opportunity for growth to capitalise on the region’s unique natural environment and marine renewables assets to establish a world-leading marine renewables test-bed for commercialisation.