Construction Engineering Management: Academic Collaboration with Industry

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1 CEBE Transactions, Vol. 2, Issue 1, April 2005, pp (11) ISSN: (Online) Construction Engineering Management: Academic Collaboration with Industry Prof Alistair Gibb The Department of Civil & Building Engineering, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire, LE11 3TU Abstract This case study describes the partnership between Loughborough University and fifteen large construction organisations to promote, organise and deliver a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Construction Engineering Management (CEM). The course originated as an initiative by the ten companies who adopted the title of 'The Loughborough Construction Consortium' ('The Consortium'). They wished to enter into a partnership with an academic institution to design and run a new honours-level degree course in building management, which would provide a sound educational foundation for future senior managers of their projects and companies. They recognised that the construction industry in the UK and world-wide requires a different role for its managers as they were asked to control complex major projects often from conception to completion. The first students graduated in 1995: ten years on this case study describes the aims and ethos of the course along with the course structure, content and industrial involvement. Student background and assessment methods are discussed and finally the course aims are evaluated. Keywords: Construction Management, Employability, Industry Partnership, Undergraduate Students Acknowledgement: this case study is drawn from the Best Practice Building Network (BPBN) programme 17

2 Introduction The aim of this case study is to identify answers to the following questions: why was such a course needed? why was contractor involvement necessary? how is the course organised? what is taught on the course? how is it different from state-sponsored courses? what are the lessons so far? Aims and Ethos of the Programme The Consortium companies had recognised the need to foster adequate numbers of competent and qualified staff to manage their companies in the future, within the context of a rapidly changing industry, using advanced construction techniques and management practices. One element of their strategy for satisfying this need was to promote first-degree courses which would reflect their anticipated needs, within a sound educational and professional development framework. They would sponsor students throughout the course, and also augment the university tuition fees so that additional facilities and tuition could be provided to enhance the delivery of the course. They expected to enter into a partnership which - without in any way constraining the independent academic conduct of the course - would result in strong linkages between the development of academic knowledge and skills, practical applications, and professional career development. Implicit within these aims was the need to attract highly qualified applicants, but a further important aim was to endeavour to encourage applicants from a broad base of A-level subjects, "to spread the net as wide as possible" was a phrase used commonly by representatives of the Consortium. In addition to creating the largest possible recruiting base, achievement of this aim would bring a stimulating mix of abilities and attitudes to the member companies. From these broad aims, a number of more specific aims were formulated, which are described below. Consortium Company aims to recruit staff who will have the potential to become effective senior building managers; to present a course and career prospects that are sufficiently attractive to bring persons of high ability into the building industry. 18

3 Educational aim to provide an educational foundation of high quality for future building managers, providing them with the knowledge and skills in technology, management and commerce relevant to the contemporary building industry. Professional aim to initiate the process of professional development, encouraging the students to take a full part in the profession of Chartered Builder. Ethos and Educational Philosophy "...a pre-occupation with the process of building..." This phrase expresses the ethos of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), and has been adopted as the ethos of the course, especially a pre-occupation with the management of that process for major building projects within leading building companies. The educational philosophy of the course is based on the generally accepted principle that effective management of the modern building process requires a fairly wide range of knowledge and skills. It is of crucial importance that these graduates understand the technology of building. This requires a good knowledge of the science and engineering involved in the materials and techniques used, together with an appreciation of the craftbased origins of much of current building practice. There is a substantial element of management that demands skills of numeracy and logical deduction. As the graduates' careers mature, competence in analysing complex inter-relationships - human and technical, which cannot be quantified, becomes increasingly important, together with a sound understanding of human behaviour. Course Structure & Content Modules broaden understanding of the following major themes: Management principles and practice (management): the organisation and practices of building firms and projects, and the effective use of human and other resources. Construction technology: the principles used in design and construction of modern buildings and the plant, equipment, materials and techniques necessary for their construction. The process of building: the way in which buildings are conceived, procured, designed and constructed, with special emphasis on the construction phase. Construction management systems: management information systems, computer systems and the analysis of managerial data; practices and procedures for the specification and measurement of building work and the estimation and control of costs. 19

4 Building services: factors that create a comfortable internal environment, and the necessary systems and equipment; electrical and communication systems. Legal principles & practice: the English legal system, including company, contract, planning & employment law, and law specific to construction; European and international law. Economics and finance: the construction industry in the national economy, macro and micro economic theory applied to the construction industry; economics of land and property; financial and cost accounting principles, sources and control of finance. Development of professional skills: skills development in oral, written and graphical communication, through practical exercises, and also professional management skills (during sandwich placements). Course Structure The structure of the course based on a four year, two semesters a year programme, incorporating two separate 6-8 month industrial placements. The knowledge and skills required by the graduate will be developed progressively. Thus, technically, the course proceeds from simple buildings to major and complex urban developments and in other subjects progresses from an exposition of simple principles to a comprehensive analysis of complex issues and procedures. The course contains realistic practical exercises that illustrate the integration of other subjects within the building process. In addition, students are taught in an environment and through exercises that develop independence, initiative and confidence, within a professional context. There is considerable opportunity for interdisciplinary interaction in that a number of modules are joint-taught with other programmes in the Department, in particular the Commercial Management and Design Management courses. Industrial Partnership The main channel for industrial liaison and for the students to gain experience is through the sponsorship arrangement. This section describes the arrangement between the University, the Consortium and the students. This is a three-way partnership, and each partner has specific rights and responsibilities. 20

5 The Programme Sponsors The University The BSc in Construction Engineering Management is run on the same basis as all the other first-degree courses in the Department of Civil and Building Engineering, with the elements of state funding transmitted to the Department according to a common set of rules. The Consortium members have no direct responsibility for the academic administration of the course. This was a decision made at the outset, and no circumstances have arisen to challenge it. The sponsors provide domain experts to assist with periodic industrial reviews of programme content and delivery. The sponsorship arrangements are that the University receives an annual grant from the sponsoring companies for each of their students. This money is placed in a specific account for the course, and is used to finance resources and facilities that could not be provided under the normal system of state funding. Examples of this expenditure are additional computing facilities, the outdoor management course, the cost of employing an additional member of teaching staff and a resource-based learning centre, with a part-time librarian. The University staff benefit greatly from having direct access to these major construction employers. Advice on current practice, and tutorial and coursework assignments is always available, and specialist lecturers from the staff of these companies enhance the academic teaching. The Consortium The Consortium organises and administers the sponsorship agreements with the students. Sponsorship is one of the entry requirements of the course, and this is co-ordinated by the Chair of the Consortium. Most applicants come initially through the University and Colleges admission system (UCAS). The sponsors are involved in the recruitment events and in the initial selection of applicants. Once an applicant has been successful at the recruitment event, they contact the sponsors to discuss individual sponsorship opportunities. A sponsorship market is thus created, and all successful applicants have found sponsors without too much difficulty. 21

6 A few applicants are already employees of one of the Consortium members. In these cases the decision to sponsor has been made beforehand. However, the academic interview is still held and the agreement of other consortium members sought. The Consortium representatives arrange the vacation and sandwich employment for their students. It is envisaged that most of the students will become employees of their sponsoring companies. They receive training and many other benefits of employment, as well as a bursary whilst at University. In the interests of harmony within the course, all students receive a similar bursary, although the precise conditions of their contract may differ. The Consortium also provides prizes for academic achievement. The Students Students receive the obvious benefit of the bursary, and also those of employment. They are under rather more pressure to perform than non-sponsored students are. In addition, they have secured agreements for sandwich training, and the expectation of a job on graduation, so they can concentrate on their degree course. Administration of the Sponsorship The arrangement is administered between the Course Director and the Chair of the Consortium. The Consortium and University meet on a regular basis. The meetings discuss all matters of current importance, and also review the progress of each applicant during the recruiting stage. Student representatives join the meeting periodically for a discussion of student issues, under which they can raise any matters of their choosing. Other Industrial Liaison In addition to the support received from the Consortium, members of the teaching staff draw also on the broad base of industrial relationships of the Department. In addition to the two fully sponsored courses (CEM and Commercial Management & Quantity Surveying), the involvement of sponsors in other Departmental courses (particularly MEng Civil Engineering and BSc Architectural and Engineering Design Management) has increased over recent years and now many students on these other course are also sponsored. Student Background and Educational Attainment A-Level Subjects Students currently on the course come from wide ranging educational backgrounds, which include entrants with A Level (UK School certificates) and BTEC (UK Technical College certificates) qualifications. 22

7 A-level points and BTEC equivalent The standard entry requirement for the course is 260 points from two subjects at A level plus a third subject at A level or two subjects at AS Level (not including general studies). However, many of the current students have attained well in excess of the entry requirement. Those who achieved less than the required entry grades were admitted for a variety of reasons. For example, several were admitted because they were considered to have very good management potential. Another quite excellent applicant was severely ill during the A - level examinations, and was admitted after careful consultation with the head teacher of his school. Other Entry Routes In addition to the main stream of entry described above, there have been a few students who have entered the course from other routes. These include transfer from the Department's course in Civil Engineering, LU Foundation Course students, and a few applicants with good HND's have been admitted directly into the second year. These are a minority of the students, and the intention is that the principal recruitment target for the course will remain A- level school-leavers. Assessment of Student Performance Assessment is by a combination of examinations, coursework, projects, presentations, site visits and fieldwork. Currently the distribution of assessment methods is around 50% by examination and 50% by coursework, some of which uses peer assessment. We consider this to be a reasonable allocation at present. Evaluation Student Ability and Numbers Despite the dramatic fall in UK-wide applications to construction-related courses in the late 1990s, the CEM course maintained a healthy number and quality of applicants. The staff team consider that the sponsorship opportunities are one of the key influencing factors in this. More recently, the numbers of applications have increased significantly, partly due to the general increase across the country, but also probably to Loughborough s good showing in recent league tables. Intake numbers form part of an overall University strategy. The Consortium has actively been addressing the issues of publicity and promotion. A conference of school's career advisors a few years ago indicated that they were still unlikely to direct high achieving management-oriented students into construction, preferring finance or commerce. However, this issue of perception of the construction industry is being addressed and this trend is changing. There is very positive feedback from our students and sponsors and a high level of demand for the programme with the number of applicants increasing appreciably over the last three years. Currently the cohorts are between 30 and 40 and this number provides a good balance between supply and demand. 23

8 Industrial Partnership and Training Two periods of industrial training, each of about six months duration, form an integral part of this programme. Students work for their sponsors within an organised training programme. Industrial training periods have proved very successful, with both students and sponsors considering them invaluable. The sponsors involvement by providing lecturers, site visits, and information for projects and so on has been a benefit to the relevance of the course. In the main, these aspects are not available for non-sponsored courses in the UK. Additional Finance Funding for higher education in the UK has been eroded over many years. The additional funding obtained from the sponsors has enabled the CEM course to be enhanced with additional teaching assistance, site visits, funding for travel for research projects and so forth. Students' Aspiration The first group of CEM students graduated in Many have proceeded into management careers with their sponsors. However, this is not mandatory and some of the graduates may choose to leave their sponsoring organisations. The sponsored students are prone to comparing themselves with their peers. In general, those organisations that have demonstrated their commitment to the students and to the course tend to be rated most highly by the students. This has proved difficult for some of the larger organisations, where the students may have felt less significant. There is a potential danger to the selection procedure and sponsorship philosophy: namely that the students may develop aspirations for their immediate future career development which are not attainable in all the organisations. Sponsors Aspiration The sponsors' aims were that the graduates from this course would form the basis of future senior management. Inevitably, a further period of experience after graduation is necessary before this aim can begin to be realised. Some of the sponsors traditionally recruit their graduates from Civil Engineering degree courses, and are more used to developing career paths for Engineer/Managers. It may take some time for the CEM graduates to develop into positions such that their different abilities are readily appreciated in the larger organisations. Also, there is a natural competitiveness between the sponsors regarding their students (often more apparent than that between students themselves). In the main this is a very positive impact on the course. However, if not contained, this could lead to some being less than satisfied with their students (not all students can come top!) Student Progression The position has remained fairly constant with a very good retention rate. We lose a very small number of students in Part A, some through withdrawal and some through termination. Many of these students are relocated to other programmes in the University. However, after 24

9 Part A, the students' progress is excellent, partially due to the additional support given by the sponsors and the benefits of a fairly small close-nit course cohort. The sample number is small however. Degree results have also been consistent following a relatively high number of first class honours in 1997 and a dip in Similarly the first destination of graduates shows most in UK employment, not surprisingly considering the sponsored nature of the Programme. External Review (Industry, Accrediting Institutions) Loughborough s Civil & Building Engineering Department retained its centre status following the last CIOB review in This was a very positive exercise and demonstrated the excellent quality of the programme. There were no significant items that required changing following this visit. The CEM programme also benefits from the close co-operation of the sponsoring consortium. This occurs formally at consortium meetings, with periodic full programme reviews. However, the informal input is also significant. Examples include direct feedback on module content from sponsors following student placements (CDM coverage, IT package content). Furthermore, the sponsors regularly discuss student progress with their students. Occasionally this also raises issues that are dealt with as they arise. One example of this is a situation where a sponsor observed that a student had apparently under-performed on one particular module. The follow-up to this included discussions with the teaching staff, programme tutor and head of department. Benefits There are a number of benefits associated with the CEM sponsored program. It is industrydriven and seeks to identify and develop future senior managers. Graduates are eligible to become full members of the CIOB, the recognised professional body for construction managers, by whom the programme is accredited. The programme is highly rated by the industry and has an exceptionally high employment rate for the graduates. It is one of only two industry-sponsored courses in Construction Management and is accredited by the CIOB. In addition it provides: 25

10 CEM distinctive Industrial Sponsorship Diploma of Industrial Studies Industry-driven program Input quality Output quality Industrial sponsorship All students sponsored Bursary Placements Coursework support Graduate employment Visiting lectures Additional funding Dedicated teaching assistant to the program Outdoor management course Residential survey course Site visits & additional resources Diploma of Industrial Studies Two 6-8 month placements Increasing responsibility Site and/or office-based Qualification separate from Degree (DIS) Reports and Dissertation assessed by industry Introduces CIOB PDP Issues and Lessons to be Learnt Current Issues Previous issues such as the suitability of language modules and the provision of group working space have been addressed. Other items are raised at the termly staff student committee meetings and usually dealt with shortly thereafter. The module leaders deal with specific issues often in collaboration with the programme tutor. Ongoing Developments Change in Programme Content Over Recent Years There have been several changes to the CEM programme over recent years, mainly in the options that are offered. A strategic decision is to increase the number and range of options, provided that they still fall within the requirements of the accrediting bodies. The following are examples of current or planned changes: E-Construction: This was a new module offered first in as a Part C option. It has responded to the increase in e-business. It has been driven by the CMQS group. 26

11 Geotechnics: This was a new module offered first in as a Part B option. It has been developed as part of a Departmental initiative to produce a module on geotechnics that is suitable for those without a mathematical background. There are also some other changes to 'core' modules such as: Methods of Measurement: This module has been revised as a response to changing needs of industry and has been driven by the CMQS group. Structural Analysis and Mechanics: This module used to be jointly taught to the management students (many of whom had no post-16 mathematics education) and to the BEng & MEng Civil Engineering students (for whom maths was a core subject). Over the years this has presented considerable challenges to both students and staff. From the department offered a new structures module specifically targeting the non-maths students and aiming to provide the necessary background understanding to structures to suit the other modules and the eventual career paths of the students. This additional module has been very well received. It has also allowed the main Civil Engineering students to concentrate on the more analytical aspects of the subject. There are still several other modules where the different cohorts are joint taught and this is seen as a benefit with regard to cross disciplinary understanding and teamwork. In addition to the above there have been numerous small changes to modules as part of the annual module review. These have not made significant changes to the delivery of the CEM Programme. The review and amendments to the CEM programme will continue in a controlled and strategic manner. There are no wholesale changes expected. Bibliography Gibb, A.G.F. & Sher W.D, Contractor Partnering in the University Education of Construction Managers - Lessons from Loughborough University, UK., Construction Vision 2000, SCAL Convention Proceedings, Singapore Contractors Association Ltd, November 1994, pp for more information on the CEM course. Footnote This case study is drawn from the Best Practice Building Network (BPBN) programme funded by HEFCE FDTL Phase 3: 27

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