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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 15 February 2005. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 24 January 2005 and 8 December 2004, on the introduction of a degree of Doctor of Engineering (the Eng.D.) (Reporter, p. 395).

Dr D. A. GALLETLY:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, first they came for the polytechnics, to turn them into universities; but we were not a polytechnic, so we did not speak up.

Then they came for all the universities, to make them fulfil the function that the former polytechnics had; and we found that we were very sorry that we hadn't spoken up, because not only was there no one left to speak up for us, but anyone who might otherwise have done so was convulsed in their own schadenfreude.

In some ways I am in two minds about this proposal. It is true that, if the country is to have any hope of recovering a manufacturing base, there need to be people well trained to work in industry. But do they need a doctoral degree (particularly one carrying a title that could easily be confused by laymen as conferring a higher doctorate) from the University of Cambridge?

We are, I think, at a watershed. Are we to accept that some of our Schools, Faculties, and Departments are glorified technical colleges? I have heard people expressing the opinion that they should be; it could, on the other hand, be considered to be submitting to the will of the Government were we to provide these vocational doctorates, which are very much a step down that path.

This entire issue is hugely political, and is a small brick in the wall of the enormous edifice that will dictate the future of higher education over the next twenty years. It should not be hidden away in the seemingly trivial issue of whether to permit people to study for the degree of Eng.D. It is a much wider, and more serious, debate than that; decisions taken now will necessarily influence future policy-making. Is all of modern academia to roll over and accede to the whims of those currently in power in Westminster?

The founders of this nearly 800-year-old University would no doubt be appalled were we so to do. I have to admit to having considerable sympathy with their pioneering spirit.

Professor G. R. EVANS (read by Dr D. R. DE LACEY):

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, the question here is whether we wish to introduce taught doctorates in the University of Cambridge. I am not clear about the answer myself but I should have been grateful to have had this big policy question put to us frankly. Eng.D. Degrees will be the first of many 'professional doctorates' in Cambridge if we begin down this road.

There are going to be tricky academic questions about the doctoral equivalency when it comes to competition between these 'doctors' and Doctors of Philosophy for postdoctoral positions.

I see that no cherry-coloured silk facings are planned this time. They were far too contentious on the last occasion on which they were proposed, perhaps. But what is the implication of the proposed Eng.D. gowns and hoods about equivalency with research doctorates?

There are significant resource implications, surely, in the provision of teaching for these courses on top of that for the proliferating M.Phil. Degrees and for our continuing undergraduate courses.

The main argument advanced here, behind the obfuscation about exactly what these 'doctorates' are, seems to be that there is more money to be had that way, for prospective students and for the University. Is that really the basis on which we wish to make our policy decisions?

Dr D. R. DE LACEY:

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'At that Discussion [on the Vet.M.D.] one speaker expressed disquiet at the prospect of the University 'embarking on a whole new family of degrees'. In their response the central bodies gave an assurance that there was no such intention. However, ... if the University is unable to offer the Eng.D. Degree, it will be seriously disadvantaged by its inability to participate in ... a large part of its [that is, EPSRC's] research student funding.' So the primary impetus for this substantial policy shift is unashamedly money, and where this is involved we must be prepared to treat the assurances of the central bodies like those of politicians.

It may be that these are very good courses to fund. It may be that the nation needs more such graduates, as it needs more plumbers. It is not clear that the central bodies have made anything of a case that Cambridge is the right place for the one rather than the other, or that the title of doctor is more appropriate to the one than to the other. If (paragraph 9) we should be offering these students the equivalent of a taught Master's and a Ph.D. Degree, why do we not do that instead and at least retain our honesty? If (paragraph 17) 'The nature of graduate education, particularly research training, is changing considerably' should the central bodies not initiate debate here on how Cambridge should formulate its policies in the light of such changes, rather than presenting piecemeal changes which inevitably affect our policies but without the necessary discussion? Or do we simply wait for the day when it becomes common in English universities, as in some transatlantic ones, to sell a degree title for ready cash and then discuss joining this band-wagon too? Of course the Council will respond that I am being foolish, that there is no such intention. But then, that is what they said last time.

Professor C. J. HUMPHREYS:

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to respond, very briefly, to the comments that have been made already this afternoon. It was asked, 'do employers need engineering doctorates?'. The answer is yes, because they are in high demand. It was also asked, 'do we need taught doctorates?' This is not a taught doctorate. In addition, there was mention of 'selling a degree for cash'. This will be a hard four-year degree course, which will be on the level of a Ph.D. Degree.

I speak as Chairman of the Faculty Board of Physics and Chemistry, and an Investigator on a major Eng.D. grant to Cambridge from the EPSRC, co-ordinated by Birmingham University, and I welcome the proposal to introduce an Eng.D. Degree at Cambridge.

Let me start by addressing an important question raised on the University website about the Eng.D. Gillian Evans asks: 'Do we want taught doctorates?' My answer is an emphatic 'No', but the Eng.D. Degree is not a taught doctorate. It is a four-year degree, the first year of which consists mainly of taught courses; the following three years consist of research. It should be remembered that at the present time, all science and engineering Ph.D. students in Cambridge receive taught courses in their first year. The level and quantity of taught courses for an Eng.D. is greater than that for a Cambridge Ph.D., but still less than that for a Ph.D. in Engineering from MIT or Stanford University, for example, where two years of taught courses are the norm. Ph.D. Degrees from MIT and Stanford are, of course, amongst the finest in the world. The important point to remember is that an Eng.D. is a four-year doctorate with one year of taught courses and three years of research.

The EPSRC's Engineering Doctorate (Eng.D.) is not a new UK degree: it is now ten years old and going from strength to strength. In January 2003 there were Eng.D. centres in fifteen UK universities, many of these centres being consortia involving a number of universities. The EPSRC is currently calling for another round of bids from universities to be an Eng.D. centre. Each centre is allocated up to £3.5 million of funding. Cambridge is not eligible to apply for such funding because it does not yet offer an Eng.D. Degree. Indeed, Cambridge has already lost millions of pounds of potential funding by not being an Eng.D. centre. Other major UK universities such as Oxford, UCL, Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton, and so on, have already approved the Eng.D. Degree.

Students with an Eng.D. Degree are highly sought after and can look forward to a prestigious job. Figures from the Manchester University Eng.D. programme show that the majority of those graduating between 1996 and 2001 currently earn between £40,000 to £60,000 per annum. This indicates the value employers place on the Eng.D. Degree.

Since April 2001, the University of Cambridge has been a member of an Eng.D. consortium co-ordinated by the University of Birmingham. However, because Cambridge does not currently offer the Eng.D. Degree, an Eng.D. student allocated to Cambridge with a University of Cambridge supervisor, and with fees paid to Cambridge, has to receive his/her Eng.D. Degree from the University of Birmingham. This is clearly a nonsense, and in order to resolve this anomaly the Cambridge Eng.D. Degree needs to be approved as soon as possible.

In the field of Engineering, broadly defined to include Materials Science, for example, the EPSRC is increasingly transferring money from its Ph.D. studentships into Eng.D. studentships because they are so successful. The EPSRC is currently putting about £40 million into its Eng.D. studentships. Engineering at Cambridge is currently losing these students, and this funding, to other universities. If this continues it will inevitably seriously weaken Engineering at Cambridge.

On behalf of the Faculty Board of Physics and Chemistry, I strongly support this proposal for Cambridge to introduce the Eng.D.

Professor I. M. HUTCHINGS (read by Professor C. J. HUMPHREYS):

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, as Deputy Head of the Department of Engineering with responsibility for graduate studies, and also as Chairman of the Degree Committee for Engineering, I welcome these proposals. As the Report makes clear, the Eng.D. differs significantly from the Ph.D. Degree, being intended for students with different career aims, who will carry out different types of research. Much of the research undertaken within the Department of Engineering has links with industry, and the opportunities offered by the proposed Eng.D. Degree will enrich those links. There are potential benefits to the students who may register for the degree, in terms not only of their own education but of future employment; to the Department in terms of enhanced collaboration with industry; and to the wider University through participation in a nationally recognized and growing route to high-level professional education which receives significant support from the EPSRC. Of the nineteen universities in the Russell Group, nine already participate in engineering doctorate centres, and Oxford is currently introducing the degree. Cambridge should also do so. The Department of Engineering supports the proposals warmly.


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Cambridge University Reporter 23 February 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.