Platform: Students must play a full part at university

With more school-leavers than ever choosing to go to university, coupled with the current shortfall of jobs, there is a need to ensure that students are equipped with the right skills that give them the best chance of finding work. Nowhere is this more critical than in engineering.

The shortage of technical placements, apprenticeships and full-time posts for engineering graduates is not likely to change in the short term. There is, therefore, a responsibility for universities to tailor the curriculum to best meet the demands of students and prospective employers.

Engineering graduates face the challenges of a highly-competitive jobs market. Consequently, many are being forced to apply for positions in a different industry or sector, putting their degree, skills and potential to waste.

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Students also need to be exposed to real-life situations that encourage creative thinking and teamwork.

Heriot-Watt University has always been a pioneer in finding ways to support the "full roundedness" of its students. In September, fourth-year mechanical engineering students work for 150 hours each in a variety of Scottish businesses.

This is a two-way street, with students given the opportunities to strengthen their CVs, practical skills and abilities, while the companies they go to benefit through interaction with the students.

But none of this is possible if students are not up to the challenge. No matter how much effort is put into ensuring courses match the skills demands of employers, we need proactive, enthusiastic, open-minded students who are willing and eager to learn.

It is up to students to make full use of the opportunities. University is like a gym: you pay a fee to allow you to use all the services available. What you pay is the same whether you go five days a week or once a month. University, like the gym, has so much to offer, but it is up to the student to get fit, lean and muscular for the challenges of life on the outside.

• Dr Carmen Torres-Snchez is a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Heriot-Watt University

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