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NextGen: HN news

NextGen 10s: Engineering

In the first of our NextGen 10s, we asked our development team 10 questions about the how the new NextGen HNC in Engineering has been developed. 

Drew McNeice is the Qualification Manager, Jim Thomson is the Subject Implementation Manager, Jane Henderson is the New Product Development Manager and Andrew McIntosh is the curriculum leader at UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands), one of our pilot colleges. 

1. So what exactly is a ‘NextGen’ qualification? 

Well, based on research, engagement and thinking done from 2017 onwards, all NextGen qualifications use a set of ‘design principles’ and I’d say the most important of these are around reducing assessment load, using bigger Units to improve coherence and connection, more project-based learning and of course the inclusion of meta-skills to develop more rounded ‘thinking engineers’ as well as learning for sustainability. 

It's all about equipping learners for the rapidly changing world of work - gone are the days when you had a job for life. Now everyone needs to develop a wide range of skills so that they can adapt and thrive. 

Another significant difference is that we are piloting these qualifications, taking on feedback and requests for change before releasing to the sector. 

2. But surely the basics of Engineering don’t change? 

That’s quite true! And you will find everything you’d expect in the NextGen Engineering, including Engineering Principles and maths. But the needs of employers and universities do change, and there are always evolving technologies in engineering. The new qualification needs to be forward looking. There are clear links here with the Engineering Council’s UK_SPEC 4. 

3. Okay so what exactly IS different then? 

Currently we’ve got multiple existing HN frameworks in Engineering, all of them in one specialist field. NextGen Engineering is one integrated framework, with multiple pathways available in, for example, Electrical, Mechanical and Systems. 

There are mandatory Units that everyone must complete then a series of choices allowing both specialisation and flexibility. We recognise that centres with smaller numbers can find it challenging to gather entire cohorts for each specialism and the new framework makes it much easier to flex. 

4. But can I use all my existing teaching and assessment materials?  

That’s a fair question and the answer is – in part. From our pilot experience I’d say it’s vital that delivery teams really examine the framework and plan for different approaches to learning, teaching, and assessment. It’s not as simple as taking a new Unit, putting it on someone’s timetable and delivering it in relative isolation, as may have been the delivery pattern in the past. 

The whole point of NextGen is to offer a more holistic and integrative approach, which is really benefitting the learner. Teams need to be aware of this challenge, collaborate extensively with each other and make those connections themselves at planning stage before delivering to learners. Teamwork makes the dream work! 

5. Sounds pretty labour intensive to me. What support is SQA offering to pilot centres? 

At pilot stage we offer regular Keep in Touch meetings. There’s on-going evaluation work, including focus groups (3 per session) both with delivery teams and learners. Plus, we have introduced a new Change Request process so that changes, big and small, can be requested by delivery teams for consideration and amendments. 

There is a new and more collaborative approach to Quality Assurance with at least 4 ‘touchpoints’ throughout the year, with the early ones being supportive and developmental, helping teams as they construct assessments and make judgements. There is as you’d expect still actual confirmation from our new External Quality Assurers that standards are being maintained. 

We’re also developing a new ‘Educator Guide’ which replaces the old Course Specification and is specifically designed to offer more useful information and guidance to teams on learning, teaching, and assessment. 

6. It sounds exciting, but can I check, who came up with the actual engineering specific Units etc? 

As always, SQA develops new qualifications in partnership with the sector. We have a strong and active Engineering Qualification Design team (QDT) with much expertise across further education, higher education, and industry. We’ve done extensive additional engagement with professional bodies, HEIs and employers. 

The Units were all written and vetted by engineering specialists actively teaching in the sector and went through all our usual quality assurance checks. Everything was done under the direction of the QDT, the members managing groups of writers and producing writing briefs in line with the QDTs direction. Of course, there’s also been a careful internal governance process across all NextGen qualifications.  

7. I’ve heard there are changes to the Graded Unit? 

Yes indeed, and this is one of the most exciting developments across all our NextGen qualifications. Our engagement and research led us to move away from the Graded Unit model and instead to devise approaches to grading learners across the qualification. Learners will emerge with an HNC in Engineering at a grade of either Achieved, Achieved with Merit or Achieved with Distinction, and their SQA certificate will include a brief narrative explaining the general level of attainment that this represents. Learners still need to pass all Units to achieve their HNC. 

So it’s much more about a learner’s performance across the year and this fits much better with what both industry and higher education is looking for – sustained effort, team work, learning from mistakes and taking ownership of your own developmental goals – these are the 21st century skills that all learners are going to need, and our new grading model is a much better way to capture these skills. 

Feedback from learners and delivery teams has been positive, although much work is on-going now to refine approaches and to produce clear, supportive documentation for delivery teams to use.  

8. What’s the impact of all this on HND Engineering? 

Good question! The NextGen HND Engineering has just been signed-off as meeting NextGen Design Principles and it mirrors the HNC in also following an integrated framework with specialist pathways. There will also be optional Units that focus on areas such as maths, energy, and sustainability. 

We’ve been carefully monitoring the piloting of HNC Engineering and changes emerging there are being carried through to the HND as appropriate. A good example of this is around maths. As a result of feedback, we are upping the maths available at HNC to broadly mirror the existing Maths 1 and Maths 2 Units, and the full range of maths options will be available at HND. 

9. It’s a lot to take in – where can I find more information to read at my leisure? 

Go straight to our dedicated NextGen webpages – you will find a truly extensive range of materials there, from e-learning courses on SQA Academy, blogs, case studies and qualification information documents. Don’t forget that all our many NextGen webinar recordings are there too, and you will find the PowerPoints that accompanied each presentation in case you’d prefer just to read those rather than listen. 

10. If you had to choose one stand out moment for NextGen Engineering, what would it be? 

I think at this point it’s over the experience on the ground from one of our pilot centres. At UHI the team liaised with a local employer to give learners direct experience of project work in the real world. Feedback from staff, learners and the employer has been so positive! It’s a notable example of NextGen in action.