Rich industrialists long have played a role in supporting engineering education. In the 1800s, the dearth of colleges specializing in technology led some successful businessmen — it only was men in those days — to establish academic institutions. For instance, Peter Cooper set up The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (where I got my chemical engineering degree) in New York City and Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. Today, though, wealthy engineers generally provide funding and sometimes lend their name to an existing high-quality academic institution. The David H. Koch School of Chemical Engineering Practice at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and the recently named Charles D. Davidson School of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., are just two examples of successful chemical engineers supporting the education of future members of our profession.
James Dyson, the British inventor, is taking another approach. This isn’t particularly surprising given that he has become famous and rich for drastically rethinking the designs of such mundane devices as the vacuum cleaner and fan.
Dyson reportedly is committing £15 million (the equivalent of almost $19 million) over the next five years to establishing the Dyson Institute of Technology and pioneering an unusual way to earn a degree.
Motivating Dyson are his concerns about a shortage of engineers and his feeling the private sector has a role to play in addressing gaps in engineering skills. “The U.K.’s skills shortage is holding Dyson back as we look to increase the amount of technology we develop and export from the U.K. We are taking matters into our own hands,” he declares.
The Dyson Institute of Technology will be located at his company’s research and development campus in Malmesbury, U.K. Students in the four-year program will receive a salary and not pay any tuition; Dyson will cover all fees. Each student will work fulltime on a new product development team at Dyson but will get time off to take courses for a bachelor of engineering degree from the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), a department at the University of Warwick, Coventry, U.K.
WMG professors and Dyson engineers have developed the curriculum. The first two years will focus on general engineering modules, with assessments based on exams and live Dyson projects. In the third and fourth years, students will have the option of specializing in mechanical engineering, electronics or a combination of the two.
The Institute’s website declares: “Alongside theoretical knowledge, the course will develop your applied skills, such as prototyping and computer-aided design. You’ll benefit from working in an international business environment. You’ll play a vital role in the development of a product and understand how it develops from conception to the moment it hits the shelves.”
Professors from the university as well as Dyson engineers will teach the courses, with most classes taking place on the Dyson campus. Some tutorials will be delivered online.
While the University of Warwick initially will award the degrees, Dyson eventually hopes to become a full-fledged degree-granting university.
The Institute will welcome an initial class of 25 students in September 2017. Besides U.K. nationals, any person with the right to work fulltime and study in the U.K. can apply.
For more details, visit www.dysoninstitute.com.
Let’s hope Dyson’s initiative inspires successful American technologists to launch ambitious efforts, too.
MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at email@example.com