Stephen Ball

A university has launched a national-first mentoring and scholarship programme in response to the shortfall in the number of engineers graduating from higher education. 

The Tamar Engineering Project will offer an annual bursary and one-to-one professional mentoring from leading industry figures to high-performing students who come from priority socioeconomic areas.

Launched by the University of Plymouth, with a £500,000 donation from an anonymous benefactor, the Tamar Engineering Project is being supported and championed by Stephen Ball, former CEO of Lockheed Martin UK.

Stephen, a graduate of the University, has been mentoring a Plymouth civil engineering student for the past year. He said: 

“Engineering underpins the very fabric of our country, and economy, from our transport infrastructure to our digital communications and is critical to our exports. And yet, in this country, we have failed to produce enough engineers. It is forecast that British industry will require 100,000 new graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects every year until 2020 if it is to meet its growth aspirations. But the UK higher education sector is currently producing less than 90,000 graduates per year, and our pipeline of talent has become choked. We need to find new people who can enter the profession, so that we increase the volume of students being successful.”

The programme covers 29 degree courses at Plymouth across engineering, computing and robotics, and is aimed at students who are high-performing but who also meet certain socioeconomic criteria, such as coming from a low income family, are disabled or a care leaver, or are from an area designated as ‘low participation’ in higher education. Students who apply and are successful will each receive a £1,500 course fee waiver, £3,000 living costs, and mentoring from an industry professional per year of study.

Professor Kevin Jones, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, said: 

“The Tamar Engineering Project very much responds to the latest recommendations from HEFCE about underprivileged groups accessing higher education. But more than that, our hope is that it will help with retention of students, and through the mentoring side, provide a springboard to personal and career development. It is very rare that students have an opportunity to gain such advice and guidance from senior figures in industry.” 

A pilot year is currently underway with four students, from computer science, computer systems, civil engineering and mechanical engineering. They are being mentored by Michael LeGoff, CEO at Plessey; Dominic Bostock, Commercial Director at Cormac; Nick Ames, Group Chief Executive at SC Group; and Jon Benton, Regional Director at Dawnus. As new mentors are recruited, so the Tamar Engineering Programme will be expanded.

“A mentoring and access programme operating in collaboration with industry, like the Tamar Engineering Project, can reach into those socioeconomically vulnerable sections of society and offer them the resilience they need to be successful in higher education,” 

added Stephen. 

“If we can help those with a passion for science and engineering be successful in what can be a challenging environment for them, then we can, bit by bit, begin to close that gap between supply and demand.”