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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

German lessons don't sink in

The Engineer
Oct 26, 2011

Companies like BMW embody the strengths of the German philosophy of education of engineers and reap the benefits of investment in early-stage technologies

It sometimes seems that every editorial comment we write at The Engineer ends up with a call for more funding from government in something or other. A quick check back on my previous pieces show that it’s not quite every one — but very nearly.

I make no apologies for that. The shortsighted approach by government to investment in science and technology is one of the UK’s major failings, and has been for many years.

A piece by veteran journalist and author John Kampfner in today’s Guardian hit the nail on the head. Kampfner, the newspaper’s former German correspondent, is discussing the differing attitude to labour laws in Germany and the UK, but early in the article he hits the nail on the head concerning the view of the importance of technology and engineering, and on funding them, in the two countries.

German economic strength, he says, is based not based on ‘cyclical, unsustainable factors’ such as property booms. ‘Instead, the German — and broader north European — approach emphasises vocational training and apprenticeships, particularly in engineering, manufacturing and the sciences. It invests in research and development, and in strong education.’

It would be wrong to portray Germany as a paradaisical haven for engineers and engineering. Chat to a German technology journalist and you’ll hear as much concern about skills gaps, government indecision and inertia, and even about the waning status of engineers. But despite this, Germany just seems to get it right more often than the UK. From the success of the Fraunhofer Institutes — which we’re only just starting to emulate, over forty years after they were set up — to the ingrained importance of engineering careers, Germany consistently sets the pace in industrial innovation.
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