4th year undergraduate at the University of Warwick
2016. BIM. Construction. These three words are of great significance to Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry professionals, and have been the topic of much development, and conversely debate, since the release of the Government Construction Strategy in 2011. However, to many UK civil engineering undergraduates, BIM itself means very little, whilst to the few who have heard of it, its meaning and purpose is somewhat confused.
Before I began my research into this topic for my project, I, along with many others, thought the significance of BIM is due to how advanced the 3D modelling technology is. In fact, it is far more to do with the way it effectively manages information. This common misconception amongst students (and even their tutors!) is caused by one fundamental problem: lack of education.
My research involved investigating how or indeed if BIM is taught in the 24 Russell Group universities. The results were as follows:
The 9 UK universities who registered a level of BIM activity were primarily involved in research and postgraduate study. There was very little to suggest undergraduates anywhere were studying or even being made aware of BIM, especially in civil engineering courses, until a brief mention in the undergraduate prospectus at Leeds. This is a frightening thought given the fast approaching 2016 deadline. How are these graduates meant to be prepared?
Findings from the 2013 National BIM Survey may help to highlight the issue further:
- 71% of respondents agreed that BIM represents the ‘future of project information’
- 74% agreed that the industry is ‘not clear enough on what BIM is yet’.
So we agree that BIM is important, but its definition is uncertain. In addition to this, if industry is not clear enough on what BIM is, then how it is to be taught effectively?
To some extent the problem is alleviated as training for professionals is readily available. However, will somebody with 25 years of experience be willing to completely change their ways to incorporate BIM? Grass roots education is the key to solving the issue as BIM is believed to be a new way of thinking. Despite this, there is very little specification from industry to define the ‘BIM-Enabled’ graduate.
So, what can we do about it?
Well, the first step is to decide what to teach. I realised it is not feasible to teach BIM in its entirety due to the cost of software and the enormity of the subject. Fundamentally students must be able to a) work and engage in collaborative group design work, b) have simple design conceptual skills and c) have a general awareness of BIM, this awareness being based upon three main topics, People, Process and Technology.
- Cover what BIM is and its role in the AEC industry.
- Understand why BIM is needed.
- Appreciate the business case for BIM and the government’s stance on it.
- Understand the basics of how BIM will be implemented, covering the Push-Pull strategy and the concept of data drops.
- Know the format of and problems with the traditional design, procurement and construction process, the tools and techniques it uses and the improvements BIM introduces.
- Be aware of lifecycle management- design conception to demolition.
- Work to the ‘right first time’ ethos in design work.
- Appreciate the importance of collaboration.
- Understand how parametric objects and clash detection define BIM and how data sets and reports can be extracted from the original 3D model.
- Understand the role that cloud technology and standards such as COBie play.
The question now, is how do we introduce this core content and these skills into the already overcrowded civil engineering degree structure?
It may be that it’s introduced as a course elective, such as ‘Civil Engineering with BIM’, or as a single optional module available to students, therefore reducing the time constraint. However, in my opinion, rather than teaching it as a separate subject, BIM has the potential to be, or should be, fully integrated into the curricula. It is plausible that the Joint Board of Moderators could include it within its three main threads of Civil Engineering accreditation, which are Design, Sustainability and Healthy and Safety and Risk Management. BIM in fact combines with all of these.
There are still many barriers to introduction still to overcome, such as delivery and assessment. Given that it’s still new to industry, who will teach it? Furthermore, how will teaching content be moderated for consistency across the board?
Despite this, BIM urgently needs to be introduced into civil engineering curricula to ensure the next generation of graduates understand exactly what is going on and why. After all, they will soon be required to have a level of knowledge and understanding that allows them to fit into industry with minimal time and cost expenditure. As it stands, this is not going to happen. It’s clear that higher education needs to catch up with industry, quickly.
Contributor: Joe Wesley is a 4th year undergraduate at the University of Warwick, studying for an MEng Masters in Civil Engineering. Earlier this year he completed his third year individual project, ‘BIM and the Civil Engineering Undergraduate’, which involved developing a proposal for the introduction of BIM at the University of Warwick.