A new report by education charity The Edge Foundation and the Royal Academy of Engineering shows that project-based learning (PBL) – involving long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with employers – has profound benefits for students.
The report, called Evaluation of University Technical Colleges, is published today by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). PBL and employer engagement was evaluated in two phases, and Liverpool Life Sciences UTC was one of three leading UTCs monitored during the second phase.
Two other UTCs, in Reading and Aston, were also examined, exploring the benefits of PBL in the curriculum and gaining strong and committed employer engagement over a sustained time period.
Ian Parry, principal of Liverpool Life Sciences UTC, says: ‘We are preparing our young people for jobs that have not yet been created, to solve problems that are not problems yet using technology that has not yet been invented. Project Based Learning allows students to engage with each other, academia, and business partners from industry and peers from across the world to solve real world problems. Students at the UTC are developing a unique set of skills and experiences that are already proving to be a unique selling point when they are applying to universities and higher level apprenticeships.’
If you were to walk into the UTC building in the Baltic Triangle next week, you would find students undertaking a range of projects from developing urban farms to support sustainable systems in our changing world to 3D-printing bones to repair skeletons from some of our local primary schools. All of our year 10 students are working on projects based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which has led to projects including building talking bins that thank you for recycling plastics, and producing giant mycelium Lego blocks that could replace plastic-based insulation.
Project-based learning is a key focus for UTCs. It teaches students a different way of learning, often via industry-relevant projects developed in collaboration with local employers, helping them develop skills that create access to employment.
Skills including critical thinking and problem solving were shown to enhance academic learning in subjects like English or history – as well as technical subjects. Students also felt that attending the UTC benefitted their confidence, motivation and engagement, as classroom-based and project-based learning was relevant to real world work situations.
Employers also value the talent pipeline generated by working with local schools. The first phase of the research, published in December 2017, showed employer awareness that UTCs are developing, and that UTC staff and partners felt UTC students were being better prepared for the world of work.
Dr Rhys Morgan is the director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering. He said: ‘UTCs put engineering on the map early on in the education system and provide students with meaningful connections with industry. This report shows how, when done well, UTCs can play a valuable role in technical education provision. They are challenged by a lack of an established place in the education landscape and need more support to spread this best practice.”
For more information, you can read the full report here.