The University of Cambridge played host to the finals of a new science and electronics engineering challenge for students aged 12-14 from across the east of England. The winners were Chelmsford County High School for Girls (overall winner) and Cambridge’s Stephen Perse Foundation (pupil’s vote) for a queue meter to cut down waiting times and an ‘e-plate’ to aid portion control and monitor food waste. The trophies were presented by Jack Lang.
The challenge is part of a UK-wide initiative to raise awareness of the electronics industry, which contributes £78 billion per year, employs 850,000 people and has a major hub in Cambridge. But this industry is under threat from an 11 year, 26% decline in students undertaking electronics at university.
The 10-week Go4SET project, developed by the UK Electronic Skills Foundation in partnership with the Engineering Development Trust (EDT), saw eight teams of six students from across the region compete in the final to present their vision and prototypes of future technologies.
The winning teams were sponsored and mentored by Selex and Plastic Logic. Other teams were supported by firms that included the Cambridge based companies, CSR and Plextech. During the 10-week project, students were invited to learn about electronics from 50 years ago, investigated the role electronics plays in everyday school life and devised smart electronic solutions to problems identified by their schools before predicting what might be possible 5 years into the future.
Wendy Daniell, UKESF Programme Director, said: “Cambridge is home to many of the world’s most innovative firms that create technologies that play vital roles in every aspect of life. These are not only home grown success stories like ARM or CSR, but foreign headquartered firms like Samsung that place substantial innovation centres here because of the quality of our engineers.
“But the electronics in modern consumer products, like smart phones and tablets, are hidden from sight and few people know about the engineering behind them, or the exciting career options that exist. This poses a major problem in attracting more youngsters to the industry.
Gennie Franklin, EDT regional director said: “It’s important to get students engaged as early as possible to attract more into GCSE and A-level subjects that give them access to rewarding, well-paid careers in an industry that’s crying out for talented people. And to do this, programmes need to stimulate and intrigue them. The ideas that the teams came up with for this pilot just show that this new project succeeds in doing that.”
Despite UCAS data showing a significant rise in demand for engineering and technology courses since 2002, there was a 26 per cent drop in British applicants to electronics engineering courses between 2002 and 2013. The gender gap is also significant with females typically making up less than 8 per cent (1 in 12) of applicants.
The Go4SET scheme is designed to raise awareness among younger students in a way that appeals to both males and females. The UKESF sponsored project saw three mixed teams with five girls-only teams.