The AHEP 4th Edition – what is it?
The Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP) sets out the standard for degree accreditation in UK higher education. It is used by the UK engineering profession to establish the competence and commitment of individual engineers and technicians, and is developed by the UK engineering profession, including organisations across industry, academia, different disciplines, and all engineering specialisms. The 4th edition of the AHEP was published on 31 August 2020, and was to be implemented by 31 December 2021. Whilst this might seem on the surface to be relatively ‘old news’, the learning outcomes will need to be implemented in UK engineering degree courses by 31 August 2024. This means that the changes to the AHEP that were introduced 18 months ago will be translating into degree courses for engineering now.
What are the changes?
The revised AHEP, now in its 4th edition, has a much sharper focus on the needs for inclusive design and innovation to be strengthened within engineering programmes of study. Expanding this, there is a greater expectation for content that covers areas of sustainability and ethics, equality, diversity alongside inclusion. All of these enhanced areas for engineering degrees are focused on ensuring engineering as a profession is capable of strengthening society through its national contribution. These areas are also seen to reflect a modern society, and respond to specific known challenges including explicit treatment of security and the mitigation of security risks, known as global threats to the UK economy.
The sustainability of engineering practice is an issue of concern for the profession and is clearly communicated throughout the AHEP. The 4th Edition encourages higher education degree programmes to make use of two key blueprints for response to climate change - the Global Sustainable Development Goals and the Engineering Council guidance on Sustainability.
To meet this climate change issue, degree programmes accredited to the AHEP 4th edition will:
- Ensure that UK engineering education provides industry relevant skills (particularly in the broad areas of social responsibility).
- Aim to draw secondary school and degree students towards an engineering career (particularly through a raised priority for equality, diversity and inclusion that will be realised within their modern engineering careers).
- Demonstrate high national and international standards for engineering.
- Demand a substantial grounding of engineering students in engineering principles, science, mathematics and well developed quantitative analytical skills.
- Embed inclusive design within the curriculums.
What does this mean for undergraduate students?
Students studying engineering here in the UK, who become the engineers and technicians of tomorrow, will develop an engineering approach that is concerned with the art and practice of changing our world. The approach will respond to the needs of both society and business and represent a significant raise in status of the social responsibilities of the industry.
Throughout their degrees, engineering students will be challenged to solve complex problems in ways that enhance societal welfare, health and safety, and pay due care to the environment. A further expectation is that students graduate feeling empowered to share the benefits of engineering innovation and progress equitably, without compromising the natural environment and depleting the natural resources of our planet, to the detriment of future generations. This could be through circular or regenerative approaches, realised within the engineering sector through a greater focus on climate criteria as a priority. Briefs and challenges within this could include achieving “net carbon zero emissions” through the development of innovative clean technologies. Students can expect project briefs to be drawn from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a set of thematic areas through which engineering innovation can be realised.
What does this mean for UK secondary school education, and particularly D&T?
For the engineers of the future, a secondary curriculum that supports the development of these related skills, whilst enabling a breadth of wider career opportunities, will be key to success. Outside of the required subjects of Mathematics and Science, Design and Technology is the subject most strategically placed to provide a platform for the development of this additional knowledge and experience. This could be realised in the following ways
- Students design solutions not just for commercial gain, but with a significant priority to environment criteria.
- Design specification criteria developed during a design project prioritise safety, diversity, inclusion, culture, society, the environment, commercial needs, and align to codes of practice and industry standards, moving away from the traditional ACCESSFM structure commonly employed in the classroom currently.
- Teachers provide students with the opportunity to design beyond single standalone physical products, using systems, circular and regenerative thinking approaches.
- Design projects evaluate design solutions through the lens of environmental and societal impacts.
- Projects start with briefs that identify and analyse the ethical concerns of stakeholders within their needs and wants.
- Teachers introduce students to risk management by ensuring design thinking is employed to maintain a focus on stakeholder needs early and throughout design, which “designs” out risk through repeated iteration and improvement.
- Learning about life cycles is more rigorous and supported by a range of industry standard tools that allow students to critique, measure and assign numerical data to the environmental profile of products, materials, and processes, with the aim of empowering students to take steps to reduce adverse effects.
- The design process requires students to adopt inclusive approaches and practices, to support equitable and diverse stakeholder needs so that they are not only being met, but prioritised.
Where should we go from here?
Pearson’s vision for the future of design education, announced in February 2023, outlines a curriculum and qualification pathway that advocates sustainable and inclusive content at its core. In addition to raising the status of social responsibility of design and engineering education in secondary schools, the content that sits behind this vision brings all of these AHEP 4th edition changes into the design curriculum - inclusion, diversity, equality, social and environmental responsibility. It ensures that those who aspire and eventually become the engineers of the future, are able to make decisions and achieve innovations that prioritise our climate.
Whilst these curriculum changes are essential to supporting student progression, the ways in which these changes could be realised within a future version of design education recommend achievable changes that start with rebalancing the purpose of the subject, not for making new products, but for solving real problems for the people affected by them.
If these curriculum changes can be realised within design education, every student in UK schools would be exposed to the knowledge and experiences of design that imparts the social responsibility that these industries have. Every student would be educated about the global challenges faced by modern society, encapsulated within the thematic areas of the Sustainable Development Goals, and every student would recognise engineering and design as careers that care for the environment, and have the power to effect change.
For more information visit go.pearson.com/thefutureofdesign.
Phil is responsible for qualifications that sit within the creative subjects such as Art & Design, History of Art, Design & Technology, Music Technology and Music, but also Business and Economics. His role requires providing support to teachers of Pearsons’ qualification suite, but also strategy and education leadership on the future of qualifications in these subjects.
Prior to joining Pearson, Phil spent 14 years championing the very best for Design & Technology education as a D&T teacher, subject lead, assistant head, and education consultant, working at schools in both the independent and state sector across South London, Kent and Surrey.
Between 2012 and 2016 he founded and led a company called Teach Design, which provided free at the point of demand training and support to design, technology and engineering teachers with an ethos of “For teachers, by teachers”, which led to a national accreditation for social innovation through the London Schools Excellence Fund programme.
Read more article in the series and find out about our vision for the future of design education here.