At Dyson, the school gates are now open

By Oliver Smith 14 September 2017

Dyson Institute director Duncan Piper has a bold new vision for education.

Today 33 undergrads started on the UK’s most exclusive engineering course.

They’ll live on a secretive campus, in futuristic living pods, in the heart of the British countryside.

No, not Oxford or Cambridge. Dyson.

Dyson Institute of Technology was announced last year, a groundbreaking partnership between one of the country’s leading engineering businesses and the university of Warwick.

At a time when Britain is facing skills shortages in STEM subjects, exacerbated by the looming threat of Brexit, fields like engineering are struggling to recruit.

It’s this shortfall which the Dyson Institute is hoping to solve.

By combining Dyson’s world-leading scientists and engineers with academics from the University of Warwick, Duncan Piper, the director of the Dyson Institute, says it’s an entirely unique experiment.

“It couldn’t be more different from anything that’s been done before,” Piper told The Memo.

“These undergrads are being thrust into innovation, in building products, which is what Dyson does. They’re stepping into an environment that isn’t about just learning, it’s about utilising those skills from day one.”

From robotic vacuum cleaners to, maybe, working on top secret driverless car projects.

Welcome to Dyson University

Over the four-year course, unlike a traditional engineering undergraduate degree, students will be paid for their time, get hands on developing new products, leave debt-free and with a qualification from Warwick.

“James has no interest in expertise, he has interest in naivety, questions and people who challenge how things work, and that’s exactly what these students come here with,” says Piper.

The new approach is already having a dramatic impact, with the Institute is attracting a far more diverse cohort than would usually be found studying engineering.

27% of the students starting are women, significantly higher than the UK’s average on engineering degrees which is 16%.

The future of learning?

While Piper is clear that the Dyson Institute’s ultimate goal is to become a university in its own right, he doesn’t believe the Institute should be seen as competition by traditional higher education institutions.

“What you see here is a world apart from Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial. They have a thousand year history and we have none,” he says.

Despite being new to the university game, Piper says ‘student life’ will still be a big part of the experience for these first 33 students.

With its campus already boasting a community of 3,000 staff, with dozens of sports clubs, cinema clubs and societies, you could almost mistake it for any other university.

Besides the futuristic living pods and building driverless cars.