Partnership in distance learning

December 09, 1999

Scottish Engineering Centre looks to Michigan for expertise. Unique partnership would tap U-M's skill in distance learning, short courses.

ANN ARBOR---The University of Michigan College of Engineering has entered into talks to form a unique partnership with a new Scottish Centre of Engineering Excellence being formed in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Centre's mission will be to provide engineering continuing education and technology transfer for the European Community. It looks to Michigan for more than 50 years' experience in those roles, as well as the latest technical innovations for distance learning and strong partnerships with industry.

European partners in the effort will include Rosyth Europarc, the Scottish government, British Defense Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), and Scottish universities. Rosyth Europarc, (pronounced rah-ZYTH) where the Centre will be housed, is part of the former Rosyth Naval Base in Fife. DERA, which has a $1.6 billion annual budget and a staff of 12,000 engineers and scientists, may be a customer of the Centre as well as a resource for teaching and consulting.

The Centre will be a private corporation owned by a small number of shareholders and will open on an 18-month pilot basis beginning in October 2000, with full operation expected by the second quarter of 2002.

"The College of Engineering has been establishing partnerships with several global partners," said Stephen W. Director, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at the U-M. "This opportunity is very exciting because of its scope and location, and is a very good fit with our goals for engineering education. They were looking for expertise in the sort of market-driven, short-course training that we've been providing for decades, and we were looking for a strategic relationship in this key part of the world." Director cautioned, however, that the finer details of the arrangement are still being worked out.

Michigan brings more than 50 years' experience in short-course training for professional engineers, both on campus and in the work place, and a long history of involving corporate partners to teach management skills as well as engineering.

The College of Engineering's Center for Professional Development (CPD) offers 40 to 50 short courses each year, and has trained more than 100,000 professionals. Its state-of-the-art distance learning programs use the Internet to provide streaming video, allowing students all over the world to watch and listen to a lecture while reading supporting materials and being able to submit questions to the professor. (For an example, visit A two-way video conferencing system is used to provide real-time interaction with up to seven remote locations at once.

Most importantly for this partnership, CPD's course offerings are tailored to what industry is asking for, explained Ed Borbely, director of the College's Center for Professional Development. The center offers on-site training for industry and government, and will customize curriculum to meet business needs. Though the Europeans have experience in distance learning, they have not dealt much with the sort of market-driven, short-course offerings that Michigan excels at, Borbely said. "We respond directly to what industry needs for its people to be more effective, productive, and competitive."

Though much of what CPD has offered over the years has focused on the automotive industry and heavy manufacturing because of the University's proximity to Detroit, CPD also has experience providing the sort of swords-to-plowshares re-training of military researchers which the DERA needs.

Another attraction for the Scots was Michigan's longstanding experience in training students for both management and engineering, said James Bean, associate dean for graduate education at the College of Engineering. "What they've heard from their customers is that this is what industry wants."

The showcase of this kind of cross-training at Michigan is the Joel Tauber Manufacturing Institute. A non-academic unit of the University which is led by administrators of the School of Business, the College of Engineering and industry, and draws faculty and students from each. The heart of the Tauber program is a Team Project system which puts Michigan's best students into the work place of a corporate partner to solve a difficult manufacturing problem. Tauber students have worked with companies like Intel, Boeing, Harley-Davidson and 3M, often creating innovations which save millions of dollars.

More of this sort of consulting and technology transfer is what the leaders of the Rosyth Europarc have in mind. "There are potentially all sorts of relationships that could come out of this for our faculty," Borbely said. "This is a strategic relationship in an important part of the world which is known for its engineering."

The Scots too, see the arrangement as a tremendous opportunity. "The Scottish Centre of Engineering Excellence has the potential to become a facility of major benefit to Scottish companies and the Scottish economy," said Henry McLeish, Scotland's minister for enterprise and lifelong learning. "Indeed, the aim is for it to become recognised as a Centre of Excellence not only in Scotland, but also in the UK and Europe."
EDITORS: For further information, contact Stephen W. Director at (734) 647-7008,, and James Bean at (734) 647-7090, Overseas contacts: Scottish Executive Information Directorate, Martin Osler, 0131-244-2663,

Internet Resources:
--The University of Michigan,
--University of Michigan College of Engineering,
--The Joel D. Tauber Manufacturing Institute,
--The Center for Professional Development,
--CPD's distance learning demos,

University of Michigan

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