Migrating to online20 July 2020
I heard a rumour on the grapevine recently (which thankfully proved false) that a highly-respected school of tunnelling was to withdraw its MSc programme.
I heard a rumour on the grapevine recently (which thankfully proved false) that a highly-respected school of tunnelling was to withdraw its MSc programme. At first it came as a surprise but seemed fairly credible when seen in the light of the current coronavirus upheavals, the ensuing economic difficulties and the ongoing problems of attracting people into engineering. However, were such a closure to occur, the tunnelling sector would suffer a huge loss.
As it happens, I had attended one of the said institution’s short courses a few years ago – paid for out of my own pocket I might add, not by my then employer. Yet it proved to be worth every penny and was a great learning experience with an impressive line-up of speakers and other experts.
However, the possibility of universities withdrawing courses due to economic difficulties is a constant threat. So, now might be a good time for those institutions that offer full- and part-time tunnelling master’s courses to consider offering on-line versions to complement their repertoire.
On-line courses (as opposed to those offered by ‘distance learning’) have created a revolution in education in the past 10-15 years, with a wide variety of choice in science, technology and engineering. The tools available – on-line lectures, videos, forums where students interact with peers and lecturers, and self-assessment tests – have shown that these courses can simulate the traditional academic environment and achieve the required standards.
There seems to be no obvious impediment to the establishment of online tunnelling master’s courses. Indeed, I hear that at least one institution is already looking into the possibility. Such courses would probably attract more students globally, would suit the current affinity for working and learning from home, and probably be relatively profitable for the institutions concerned. But, as for any new course, establishing them and gaining the requisite academic and professional accreditation can be a long, complex and probably costly process. Nevertheless, once in place, the likelihood is they can attract more students than their full- and part-time equivalents and may be better suited to weather any future societal disruptions.
As we gradually get back to a degree of normality, we might reflect on how disruptive to education these past three months have been and how the effects of any future such occurrences might be minimised. Technology has made education more accessible and on-line courses can allow academic progress to continue independently of external circumstances. Now might be a good time to consider how they can benefit the tunnelling sector.