Engineering is a very broad field with many separate disciplines, and engineering graduates will increasingly be in demand to solve the complex global challenges faced by mankind.  In the UK, this breadth is reflected in the wide range of type and title of engineering degree.  In general terms, the main types of degree available are at bachelors or masters level.  At bachelors (first cycle) level, there are BSc or BEng degrees, whilst masters or second cycle degrees include MEng or MSc programmes.  BSc or BEng degrees are typically three year full-time degrees (four years in Scotland); the MEng degree is four years long (five years in Scotland); and full-time MSc programmes are typically of twelve months duration.  Part-time and distance learning options are often available.

When deciding which degree to study, the first decision you should make is about the discipline, such as chemical, mechanical or civil engineering.  Most first cycle degrees and MEng degrees focus on the named discipline from the start, although there are a few examples of more general degree programmes, where specialisation follows one or two years of more general engineering.  Inter-disciplinary degrees are also available.

MSc degrees vary widely in their nature and purpose.  Some offer the chance to study in greater depth particular aspects or applications of a broader discipline in which you already hold a first cycle degree.  Others bring together different engineering disciplines or sub-disciplines in the study of a particular topic or engineering application, while a further category may be truly multi-disciplinary.

uk engineering students

Many engineering students intend to work as practising engineers and become professionally qualified with the Engineering Council, the UK regulatory body for the engineering profession.  As well as holding the national registers for various categories of engineer such as Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng), the Engineering Council sets and maintains the standards for the profession.  These standards are internationally recognised and they broadly set out the required standard of competence for anyone wishing to become professionally qualified as IEng or CEng.

Studying for an engineering degree is the way that most individuals who are planning to achieve IEng or CEng status choose to demonstrate their underpinning knowledge and understanding.  If your degree is accredited, it means that the programme has been subject to scrutiny by a panel of academics and industrial representatives.  They look to see if the degree provides some or all of the required underpinning knowledge understanding and skills for eventual registration with the Engineering Council as a professionally qualified engineer. Having accredited status provides you with an assurance that the degree has met standards set by the profession.

In the UK, most engineering degrees are accredited, and holding an accredited degree means that the process of becoming professionally qualified will be more straightforward.  However it is still possible to become professionally qualified with a non-accredited degree – it might take a little longer as you may have to undergo an individual assessment by a professional engineering institution.  If you are interested in a degree that is not listed by the Engineering Council as being accredited, it’s worth checking with the university.  It is possible that an accreditation visit has just taken place and a decision is pending, or that the university is about to apply for accredited status for the degree.  Occasionally, accreditation may be backdated.  However, it is not a requirement for a UK engineering degree to be accredited, and sometimes a university decides not to seek this.

mechanical engineering design

If you intend to become professionally qualified with the Engineering Council, after graduation you will need a period of further training and experience (generally known as professional development).  This is when you will work to develop the necessary competence and commitment.

Whilst accredited degrees meet threshold standards, it doesn’t mean that they are all the same.  Courses vary, for example in the extent of their links with industry, the opportunity for a period abroad or in industry, the amount of project or site work and how you will be assessed, and you need to refer to the individual prospectus for more details.

If you intend to return to work or become professionally qualified (sometimes referred to as being licensed) in your own country, you should also check to see if there are any specific requirements in that country about accredited degrees.  Some countries publish a list of UK degrees that are recognised.  In some cases this list is published by the engineering professional or regulatory authority in the country.

Achieving an accredited engineering or technology degree is the first step on your way to becoming a professionally qualified engineer, so making the right choice is worth the effort!

Useful links:

The Engineering Council’s Academic Courses Accredited Database (ACAD)

Benefits of registration