School of Systems Engineering, Reading University consultation.

I have responded to the request of the Vice Chancellor for views on the future of this school in the University.

I have urged the University to keep and develop the School. Government policy and the national interest point towards more school pupils taking Science and technology subjects  with a view to going into Higher Education. Reading University sits at the heart of a hi tec valley with many computer and engineering based jobs available, and with many digital age companies expanding. There are opportunities there for our local university which I would like them to take up. I will be happy to help if they need assistance in their relationship with government or the wider community.


  1. Alan Wheatley
    February 13, 2015


  2. A different Simon
    February 13, 2015

    “sits at the heart of a hi tec valley with many computer and engineering based jobs available, and with many digital age companies expanding”

    That sounds 20 years out of date to me .

    How can students be expected to take on £50k of debt to invest in their future when they see the Govt fast-tracking hundreds of thousands of ICT visas to (migrants ed) ?

  3. Gumpy Goat
    February 13, 2015

    Good comment.Yep keep it as it is needed by industry

  4. Cliff. Wokingham
    February 13, 2015

    Good luck with this John, it makes sense to educate our youngsters for the future.

    We need to start making things again in this country. Let’s re run the “I’m backing Britain” campaign of the 1960s again. (sorry to repeat myself again)

    John, I was watching a news programme recently and a young man of eighteen stated he didn’t feel he wanted to get a job yet because he is only just turned eighteen…..By that age, most of us had already been in work for some years and it was seen back then as normal. Do you think that by, in effect, stopping kids from working on saturdays and before and after school, we have almost killed off their work ethic which was always part of our British culture? How can we reverse it and is it really just too much hastle for a business to employ a youngster? My brother runs a successful business and wished to offer work experience to a teenage relative however, when he looked at the number of hoops he would need to jump through to do this, he decided to give it a miss…..Is this a common problem for businesses?

    1. Mondeo Man
      February 13, 2015

      Yes. Being unable to get a saturday job at 14 is bad for kids.

      Mandatory staying on until 18 is to hide the unemployment levels – as is putting every young person through university until into early 20s.

      1. A different Simon
        February 14, 2015

        Mondeo Man ,

        It is almost a paradox that as employment rates and numbers increase , getting a job becomes more difficult for many .

        Over the past 40 years the political class has waged an ideological war on the family and completely devalued the role of housewife and motherhood – and by implication assaulted childhood .

        Hardly surprising that men’s wages have gone down over the same period .

        There is an obsession that everyone should be in work , working as many hours as possible until as late in life as possible and it is an unhealthy one .

        It can’t be to increase productivity because people just end up chasing their tales in ever decreasing circles .

        How are adults meant to arrange after schools activities like scouts , youth clubs , choir practice etc etc when they are expected to be working all hours and oncall 24X7 ?

        I don’t believe this is why we were put on the earth or that it is in any way necessary .

      2. libertarian
        February 14, 2015

        Mondeo Man

        You can actually leave school at 16 if you undertake an apprenticeship . There are lots about too

        BAE systems have 750 this year, Halfords have 500 in 2015 and AIRBUS, Landrover, British Gas are some of the employers offering engineering apprenticeships. 500,000 apprenticeships have been started in last 18 months

        1. Jerry
          February 14, 2015

          @libertarian; “500,000 apprenticeships have been started in last 18 months”

          Good if correct, but can someone please quantify what is meant by the word “apprenticeship” these days, are they what would have been recognised as apprenticeships 40 plus years ago in scope and what Germany would still recognise as an apprenticeship (that might actually allow someone to legally use the term “engineer” for example on completion), or are they simply on the job training to do a task or two and quite possibly low skilled at that or even worse just cheap labour?

          Sorry is I sound apprehensive, I’ve seen far to many proper apprenticeship and other training schemes decimated over the years, if decent and credible training is back on the agenda and actually being delivered then great.

  5. Julian
    February 13, 2015

    Good! If you add the advantages of robotics and 3D printing to out technological expertise we have the opportunity to build up local manufacturing again.

  6. Margaret Brandreth-J
    February 13, 2015

    Let us hope that they do not make the entrance qualifications too academic as that what they will get at the end of the courses .Advanced technology and science is important to our future success, but there are very few universities who recognise lifelong learning and the contribution it can make to the ‘ knowledge cloud’. I have seen advanced work in many subjects and compared them to the university standards and the Universities function at lower standard yet prize themselves above others, however with a different approach and assessment of aptitude this could be different.

  7. Shieldsman
    February 13, 2015

    Engineering, that’s a technical subject requiring some hard study.
    So how many MP’s do we have at Westminster having a scientific/technical training background? Very few I guess.
    When Mr Cameron hands out all the Ministerial positions does he have suitably qualified people to fulfill them?
    Or is it we will make do with a PPE, or its time to promote a lady.

  8. Margaret Brandreth-J
    February 13, 2015

    Can you see yourself in The Lords in the future Jon?

    Reply You cannot be an MP and be in the Lords!

    1. Margaret Brandreth-J
      February 13, 2015

      You are not always going to be an MP though?

      Reply I am standing in the 2015 election.

      1. Margaret Brandreth-J
        February 14, 2015

        And from what I can see you stand a very good chance of re election , but that is not always.

  9. acorn
    February 13, 2015

    Good for you JR, I have a soft spot for Reading U. I think the School of Systems Engineering is part of the Faculty of Science. If it is short of money, get them to shutdown the School of Politics Economics & International Relations in the Faculty of Arts Humanities & Social Science and transfer the budget.

    In fact government departments should stop funding all, so called, “economics” departments/schools/faculties! If a surgeon’s cock-up, on an operating table, renders you a cabbage; he/she will be struck off at the very least. If an economist, via a politician(s), renders a whole country into unemployment and poverty, they give him a Nobel Prize???!!!

    1. Lifelogic
      February 15, 2015

      “If a surgeon’s cock-up, on an operating table, renders you a cabbage; he/she will be struck off at the very least”.

      Very often nothing of the sort happens.

  10. forthurst
    February 13, 2015

    Looking at the University of Reading website, I notice the courses are selectable alphabeticaly from a pulldown list. It would be more helpful if they were arranged generically and then alphabetically within, so that the choices of related degree topics are associated on the same page.

    I may be wrong, but I believe the course under discussion is Cybernetics; there are other courses for Electronic Engineering, Information Technology, and Robotics. The question would be whether Cybernetics is now a suitable subject for tertiary training or simply a fad which is now passé; the reference to the “Gaia hypothesis” is not reassuring and I notice a reference to windmills lurking in year 3 (Sustainable electrical energy). A problem would be that many of the topics originally pigeonholed under Cybernetics have themselves become more highly developed such that the scope of the course may be too wide to go beyond the superficial; certainly trying to understand how biological systems maintain their autonomy on the same course as the autonomous machines devised by man seems like too much information for one course.

    Having also looked at the Engineering course of JR’s alma mater, I notice that there is a nearly two year grounding in general engineering topics, followed in the third term of the second year and subsequently by specialisation into different branches of engineering, with a fourth year being focused on a specific research project. I believe that Reading could do worse than migrate their Cybernetics course more towards the Cambridge approach; Cybernetics would then be rebadged as Engineering and might encompass Electronic Engineering and Robotics.

    1. Lifelogic
      February 15, 2015

      Green crap non think has indeed infected the science departments at many Universities. Especially and rather sadly at Imperial College I notice.

  11. Dinero
    February 13, 2015

    I think that’s the School of Systems Engineering.

  12. Lifelogic
    February 13, 2015

    I have no direct knowledge of the Engineering school at Reading but the more decent engineers, mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists and rational people in general the better. Personally I would restrict or reduce grants for the countless hobby subjects at University.

    The country would be far better run by rational Cambridge type Engineers & Physicists than by Oxford PPE, bent photocopier sales people, PR spin doctors and HR lawyers.

    If the government did something sensible for once, such as simplify the taxation, regulation and legal systems (and had a sensible risk reward balance in litigation and fewer court levels) then all the redundant lawyers and tax experts could be re-trained – perhaps in Reading. This so they could get a productive job instead. Perhaps we could get down to Japanese levels of Lawyers so 12 out of 13 could usefully be retrained.

    There is something sadly wrong with our education system when so many politician, BBC staff and bureaucrats constantly confuse cause and effect (for example in claiming graduates earn more over their life time “due” to their degrees). Or they fall for the absurd exaggeration of the global warming scare industry/religion. Or they have not even a basic understanding of energy production, positive feedback systems, statistics, real economics, probabilities, risk reward, moral hazard and the likes.

    1. Lifelogic
      February 13, 2015

      Allister Heath has it exactly right as usual I see another repeat of the Heath, Major disasters and when Cameron had an open goal.

    2. rick hamilton
      February 13, 2015

      I agree entirely that STEM subjects must be given priority. A policy which incidentally UKIP have adopted.

      In the days of Jiang Zemin the top group of Chinese leaders included seven with engineering degrees. Jiang himself was an electrical engineer. If they had all had degrees in PPE I dare say by now China would still be agonising over what kind of railways to build at some unspecified time in the future. Instead of running Maglevs and planning to put men on the moon.

      1. A different Simon
        February 14, 2015

        There is just so much resistance from the establishment to admission of scientists and engineers to the seats of power – and it seems to be self-perpetuating .

        The U.K. is destined to remain trapped in the 19th century .

        Graham Stringer seems destined to remain on the Labour back benches .

        Much easier for an engineer to go and work in the finance sector and become a multi-millionaire in a decade than to go into engineering and be unable to afford a Barrat-Box on an estate .

      2. Lifelogic
        February 15, 2015

        I am not sure putting men or even women on the moon is very productive.

    3. Jerry
      February 14, 2015

      @LL; “Personally I would restrict or reduce grants for the countless hobby subjects at University.”

      Please don’t be so dismissive of what you simply dislike or do not understand, many so called “hobby subjects” (at degree level) are still required for a successful corporate world, just not perhaps in great numbers, but then it’s even possible to have to many qualifying in STEM subjects. Indeed there is nothing wrong with PPE degrees, the problem is then moving immediately or so straight into the “Westminster Village”.

      Yes, perhaps limit the numbers, reduce peoples ability to consider and apply, no as that risks loosing best talent.

  13. John E
    February 13, 2015

    I was surprised to see that this School is under threat. Having looked at their website I have to say that they seem to be focused at undergraduate level on exactly the areas I would expect given their location, i.e. computer science, cybernetics, robotics, electronic engineering, and information technology. Their masters programmes and research areas seem similarly well targeted.

    If this school didn’t already exist then surely we would be looking to create it.

    So I agree completely with you that the emphasis should be building on what we already have in conjunction with local business to create a centre of excellence.

  14. Edward2
    February 13, 2015

    Great work.
    The linking of Warwick University with local engineering and manufacturing companies has been a big success for both parties.

  15. David Price
    February 14, 2015

    Good luck with this, I am not surprised this school is under threat as it follows a clear pattern.

    In the last several years UoR have been dropping STEM subjects (Chemistry, Physics and Botony that I know of) and have pulled out of adult education. In their place they have built a spanking new TV/media studies centre, a school to teach people to play the stock market and are now involved in developing a campus in Malaysia.

    I could be wrong but I don’t believe the executive have any interest in being an active part of the STEM economy of this area otherwise they would have been engaged extensively with employers and initiatives. They would be telling you what they needed, not asking for suggestions.

    Given the STEM history of Reading University and the extensive range of STEM enterprises it is depressing that they have failed to mesh with the local economy.

    Perhaps part of it is politicians total focus on London, Cambridge and Oxford.

  16. Ex-expat Colin
    February 14, 2015

    Its an old story of engineering training financial support. I know it from the late 80’s regarding HNC amd CGLI courses. Most near end of course lectures had the lecturer asking us to get others in our companies to sign up. Otherwise with funding short the course would not run again. Never thought I would experience that….electronics!

    Farage is dead right on funding engineering training.

  17. Excalibur
    February 14, 2015

    It is inconceivable, JR, that his question should even arise. In Asia, the Chinese, Taiwanese, South Koreans, Japanese and Indonesians are forging ahead with innovative developments in robotics, nuclear power generation, railways construction, high speed trains, magnetic levitation, specialised hospitals and shipbuilding. We need an urgent reappraisal of our technical education methods and direction. The rest of the world will not wait for us.

    1. alan jutson
      February 14, 2015


      Agree absolutely with your comments, if we lose the ability train engineers of any kind, then we lose control of our advancement with technology, and become reliant on importing such skills.

      Our universities should be expanding these type of departments, if there is no demand for them by students, we clearly do have a serious problem with our education system, and the standing in which our technical people are held.

  18. DaveM
    February 14, 2015

    Mr Redwood,

    As a native of Reading I can definitely see the merit of this (although a non-resident for over 20 years, I still return frequently).

    On a related theme, the chancellor recently visited Devon and alluded to possible plans to develop certain industries within the county.

    There seems to be a theme emerging – holistic development of centres of excellence encompassing seats of learning, industries, etc, and they seem to be focusing on county areas. I have long believed that counties are an appropriate size (geographically and demographically) to be administrated, and so on. There are clearly plans afoot to make (metro) county areas more autonomous. I don’t necessarily see this as a negative thing, but I would advocate having a similar structure for ALL metro and trad counties within England; as long as it is done properly with party politics left out of it, and with central government support (from English-only MPs) it could produce appropriate and relevant industries within counties, on all levels from non-skilled jobs to apprenticeships to higher education. It would also work well alongside the first of Mr Hague’s EVEL options.

    Just a thought.

  19. James Reade
    February 17, 2015

    Thank you very much for this John, I’m pleased that the university has been given some sound advice given their decision to start this rather unfortunate process with the School of Systems Engineering.

    Their role within the university in terms of research, as well as teaching, is essential, providing the kinds of computing expertise we all need for understanding big data methods, and all sorts of other computational issues.

    Hopefully this review will be speedily concluded, and the school can carry on doing its vital work.

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