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UK MSc course for masters in tunnelling Jul 2011
Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
The University of Warwick in the UK is set to launch in September its first year of a new Masters degree course in tunnelling and underground construction.

Open to post graduates with a BSc or B.Eng degree in civil engineering, the MSc course is designed specifically to advance the study of design and construction of underground infrastructure, an area that is given only scant attention as a discipline in general civil engineering education courses, but one that is, in so many ways, distinctive and specialised.
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Offered with the full backing and support of the British Tunnelling Society (BTS), the course is intended to attract new engineers into the tunnelling industry and address a critical shortage of engineers in a sector that is expanding rapidly and acquiring a more prominent focus.
In the UK alone, current and planned tunnelling and underground construction projects run into many billions of pounds. The £14.9 billion Crossrail scheme in London is just the start of years of planned construction works; the £3.6 billion Thames Tunnel CSO super-sewer has started with the award of the 6.9km, £422 million Lee Tunnel contract; an additional 85km of high voltage cable tunnels beneath the city are planned; and London Underground is working through a £1.5 billion upgrade of its most congested underground stations.
Tunnelling taken to the classroom

Tunnelling taken to the classroom

A second high-speed rail link with as much as 50km of the line in tunnels; a duplicate north-south Crossrail scheme under London and extensions to the Underground are all projects in the pipeline, along with new sewers, water tunnels, mass transit schemes, road tunnels, hydro projects, and underground nuclear waste repositories. All require the specialist skills of engineers with a specific education in the design and construction of underground works.
The default of having to learn tunnelling from experienced seniors is no longer feasible. The demand for engineering specialisation, just as the demand for bridge-building specialisation, is now too great. The scope and risk of the underground structures to be managed is now too complex to appoint graduate engineers with no specific education or training in the disciplines that set underground construction apart from other civil engineering studies.
The Warwick University MSc course can be attended on either a full-time or part-time basis. The inaugural 50-week full-time course from October 2011 to September 2012 comprises six 40-hour and 60-hour modules that cover all aspects of tunnel and underground space design, construction, project planning and management, risk assessment and safety, current best practices in all areas of the industry, with attention towards sustainability and protection of the environment. Fieldwork is also part of the study, with visits to current tunnelling projects, and provision for site investigation and project site setup workshops.
A full-time course at the university costs £6,000 for the year. Part time students, including those perhaps with a degree in the mining industry who want to make a transition to civil tunnelling, can attend selected modules. The full-time students work towards an MSc or M.Eng degree, while the part time students earn CATS, the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme which is a means of measuring learning equivalence. The course is also designed to assist qualified engineers towards Chartered status with the Institution of Civil Engineers.
The initiative for the course was promoted strongly by the BTS. Colin Eddie and Kate Cooksey of Morgan Sindall spearheaded discussions with Warwick University and support from members was offered in scoping the course to ensure it covers all aspects of the British tunnelling industry, its regulations and best practice standards.
Warwick University is a particularly appropriate host for the new course. It is in a moderate fee band, with students paying less than those attending Oxbridge universities; it has a civil engineering degree department that is highly regarded; and it hosts, each year, the well-established and well-attended week-long BTS training course in tunnel construction and design.
The majority of the course modules will be taught by university lecturers, with industry professionals presenting about one fifth of the curriculum. Notable BTS members including Martin Knights, Donald Lamont, Bob Ibell, Ross Dimmock and many others have given their time to conduct specific classes within the programme.
Visits to sites are part of the course

Visits to sites are part of the course

In a recent interview with Kate Cooksey, herself a graduate civil engineer and now fully committed to a career in the tunnelling division of Morgan Sindall, one the UK's leading tunnelling construction contractors, it was explained that the extra year to complete a MSc in Tunnelling and Underground Space at Warwick will give graduating engineers an edge over the others.
She said: "There are so many graduates at the moment who just cannot find employment in this economic environment. None of the traditional employers are taking on new graduates. It is the tunnelling industry that is crying out for qualified engineers. A graduate with an extra year's MSc study in tunnelling has a better chance of employment straight from university."
Despite the evident need, uptake of the places offered on the course has been slow.
Independent students are perhaps unaware of the existence of the new course and only a few companies in the industry have sponsored a new engineer through the course. Whilst Morgan Sindall, Balfour Beatty and Vinci and Underground Professional Services have sponsored about six student places, a major disappointment is that the owners of the country's largest tunnelling projects – Crossrail, Thames Water and London Underground – have all failed to show interest so far. It is only through industry support for the course that it can survive, where so many other initiatives for specific tunnelling courses have failed.
A further indication of either too little promotion or of a decided lack of interest is the fact that six bursaries of £3,000 each offered by the BTS are yet to be taken up. Six 50% scholarships for a full-time, full-year course are still on offer just two weeks from the close of applications on July 31. This a golden opportunity waiting to be snapped up by anyone wanting to secure a career in the fastest growing sector of civil engineering worldwide. It is also a chance for the industry's companies to support the further education of their future tunnelling professionals and divisional managers and directors.
Further details about the course are obtainable from Warwick University and from the BTS for the generous bursaries on offer.
References
Scheduling for success at Crossrail - TunnelTalk, April 2011
TBM commissioned to tackle London CSO task - TunnelTalk, May 2011
London Underground upgrade and expansions - TunnelTalk, Dec 2009
Recovery contract at Glendoe - TunnelTalk, Feb 2010
University of Warwick Masters Degree in Tunnelling
British Tunnelling Society Warwick MSc degree bursaries

           

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