5 August 2021

Sheffield's engineering expertise has not faded - it is leading the way

Professor Mike Hounslow, retiring Vice-President and Head of Engineering at the University of Sheffield, discusses the University's strength in engineering education and research and how it is helping the UK recover from Covid-19.

The University of Sheffield's Formula Student team

By Professor Mike Hounslow, published in the Sheffield Telegraph, August 2021

I have been privileged to lead the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering for the last 13 years. In that time, Sheffield has cemented its position as one of the biggest and best engineering universities in the UK, and earlier this month the National Student Survey put our Engineering Faculty at the top of the Russell Group. I have witnessed our academics progress pioneering research that has made a real impact on industry and thousands of students graduate and forge remarkable engineering careers. As I retire this year, I have been reflecting on the importance of engineering education in the city - and the role that Sheffield can play as the country recovers from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.

Now that most Covid restrictions have been lifted in England, we can focus our attention on the future and how we can rebuild the country. The government has presented its vision for the country’s post-pandemic future through a series of plans to ‘build back better’. This includes an Innovation Strategy to create an economy that works for everyone and a ten point plan for a green industrial revolution to support green jobs and help us reduce our carbon emissions.

The key to the success of these plans will be through engineering. To deliver a green industrial revolution, we need engineers with the skills to work in our renewable energy sector and engineers who can develop new, green technologies that are fit for purpose to replace our old, carbon-emitting ones. 

As the UK seeks engineers with these skills, it may be forgiven for looking towards London and the South East with its ‘golden triangle’ of universities - Cambridge, Oxford and London. But, by focusing on those places, it will be missing one of the true leaders of engineering excellence and innovation in the UK - Sheffield. Over the past decade and more, the University of Sheffield has become one of the biggest and best engineering universities in the country.

Sheffield is still known throughout the UK as the birthplace of the steel industry, though people may believe it’s a place where industry has declined and engineering expertise has faded, as told in films like ‘The Full Monty’. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering is a world class leader of engineering education, research and innovation. It’s where industry and academia meet to find solutions to their biggest problems, the latest technologies are developed and the brightest students from the region, the UK and the world come to study engineering and learn their profession. 

The University’s engineering faculty will play a pivotal role in the green industrial revolution. We are working with energy industries to help make the transition to low and zero carbon energy supplies. We’re developing new carbon capture technologies as well as the technologies the country needs for our nuclear, solar and wind power industries to reach net zero and tackle the climate crisis.

Our engineers are developing ways for the country to build and maintain our wind turbines and develop new electric planes and vehicles for our transport systems. Furthermore, we’re developing new products to keep British manufacturers at the forefront of technology, and are developing new ways of modernising and maintaining our own rail and transport infrastructure to ensure they meet the country’s needs, all while reducing the country's carbon footprint.

We’re partnering with the water industry to modernise our systems to ensure they can be maintained in the face of the climate crisis, and with the construction industry to help find new ways of building homes in a sustainable way. 

Computer scientists and control engineers from the University are using Artificial Intelligence to teach computers to read patient records, and to drive down the cost of parts in the motor industry

We’ll continue to support SMEs throughout the city and South Yorkshire through R&D partnerships and supplying them with skilled graduate talent. Our partnership with Magnomatics is helping the company manufacture products for many global industries based on its ground-breaking magnetic gear technology. 

We are producing the engineers our country needs to close the skills gap. Our outreach programmes help to provide an engineering education for people in areas of South Yorkshire that don’t typically go to university, helping them develop successful careers in the region without having to relocate to the South. An engineering degree from the University of Sheffield is a mark of excellence, giving young people an advantage in the job market. We have more engineering graduates going into technical jobs than any other member of the elite Russell Group of universities - and the great majority start their careers in the UK. 

It has been a great pleasure to lead the University of Sheffield’s engineering faculty and witness the incredible hardwork and dedication of my colleagues in making Sheffield one of the best engineering universities in the country. Only last week did we see our Engineering students make history by winning the prestigious Formula Racing competition at Silverstone, and as I begin my retirement I look forward to watching how the University and the city plays a huge role in helping to build a brighter future for us all.


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