Sunday, 13 September 2020

Concern regarding undergraduate teaching of Mining Engineering in UK

Unfortunately Thursday's Cornish Mining Sundowner has had to be cancelled, due to new Coronavirus restrictions on size of gatherings.

As the majority of sundowner regulars have association with Camborne School of Mines (CSM), mainly as current and ex-students and staff, there would have been much talk of the very disturbing news regarding CSM's degree course in mining engineering, which has its origins back to 1888.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by Metcelerate to prepare a short video on the crucial importance of mineral processing, for their international online course for young mineral processors. The video was also added to YouTube in the hope that it might inspire school leavers to take up a career in the minerals industry. Ironically on the same day news came that the University of Exeter had announced a plan to ‘pause’ recruitment to the BEng Mining Engineering programme at CSM for the 2021-22 academic year, but stressed that it hasn’t been scrapped, instead recruitment has been paused while it looks to reshape the opportunities to study mining and related topics. 

The University says that it will explore a range of options to allow undergraduates to study mining, possibly through other engineering programmes, and will continue to recruit to the geology and postgraduate mining programmes.

A University spokesperson said "we know this may cause concern for some colleagues and students, however our current undergraduates will be supported fully to complete their studies, and colleagues and stakeholders will have a range of opportunities to help shape future courses. There is a strong future for the study of mining at the University of Exeter.”

'Pausing' however suggests a euphemism for something more sinister, and among those expressing sadness at the news was Cornwall Councillor and Camborne School of Mines student Loveday Jenkin who described the move as “another proud Cornish community that is looking like it’s going to disappear”. 

Let's hope not, as CSM is the only university department in UK offering a degree in mining engineering, the course being accredited by the IOM3.

This announcement is particularly ironic as only a few days earlier there was news that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in UK could be banned within a decade amid pressure from Conservative MPs to accelerate a transition to green vehicles. Ministers are expected to publish detailed plans soon to phase out the combustion engine in efforts to cut roadside pollution and greenhouse gases. A consultation began in February on bringing forward the deadline from 2040 to 2035 with the possibility of a faster transition if feasible.

There was no mention, as always, of where the extra raw materials would come from to affect this transition. In the posting of 21st July 2019 I suggested that zero carbon by 2050 was unattainable if all vehicles driven by fossil fuel were replaced by electric vehicles, as there simply would not be a sufficient supply of raw materials to satisfy the demand. Blocking young school leavers from training to be the mining and minerals engineers of the future can only exacerbate the situation.

The news is particularly galling as employability of CSM mining graduates at home and overseas has been excellent, no less than 15 of last year’s cohort being taken on by a single company.

In my short video I stressed that as we enter the 4th industrial revolution the demand for raw materials will increase and that mines would have to ramp up production and the mineral industry look to secondary sources and recycling, only achievable if we have an increased supply of trained mining and mineral processing engineers.

However in UK Engineering’s otherwise comprehensive website, there is no reference at all to Mining or Minerals Engineering, and a link to a quiz for students, to give them an overview of all engineering disciplines, has no reference to mining or quarrying and no hint comes up in the jobs list.

Many years ago when I worked in Zambia the majority of mineral processors had degrees in chemical engineering, but on the IChemE's website, the section on "what do Chemical Engineers do" has no mention of the minerals industry, despite the fact that in 2013 IChemE launched a new special interest group dedicated to mining and minerals!

This is all very worrying and I invite your views on what is a subject of crucial importance not only to the minerals industry, but to society in general.



  1. Yes, worrying news but hopefully not terminal. We could do with the support of mining companies (financial and in-kind) and the wider community to save this precious programme. The main problem has been a lack of awareness amongst A-level students of the incredible opportunities which mining engineering can bring. CSM and others have been trying to rectify this (with limited resources) but we badly need a more consolidated effort. Ben from CSM.

  2. Barry
    This is part of a worrying global trend that sees a growing disconnect between the world we live in and the understanding of the resources, skills and education required for us to sustain living in this world.
    The world of metals is making a strong comeback but the political, educational and social world we live in, is ill prepared to provide the education, training and research to support it.
    Jacques Eksteen
    COO of the Future Battery Industries CRC Ltd

  3. Thanks for bringing this up. It’s for sure concerning, as much it was concerning to see a handful of new mining schools popping up across Brazil a few years ago. When I graduated in mining, it was the heaviest engineering available (the one with the highest number of credits) spread over a 5y program. I heard some new schools were offering 100% online courses to be completed on 4years. We need mining for everything, from green technology to food production. We need mining to be developed responsibly for the sake of humanity. We need to protect the environment and communities while we exploit the natural resources we need. And that takes time and effort to learn.
    How do you think we can improve on this?
    Denise Numes, Vancouver, Canada

  4. The first words in your video "if it can't be grwon it must be mined" sum up the situation perfectly. How many people are aware of this?
    Sylvia Harston, Denver, USA

  5. This is so true .. in a time when our industry is being accused of being a villain worldwide we need to point out that ipad seeds are not as readily available as we might like. Mining is not just in our future, it IS our future. I got into the industry through the side door and have studied hard to understand how to solve my clients problems .. finding information can be tough but I believe that Information is KING. I should have started earlier.
    Paul Hook, UK

  6. I fully agree with you and others.
    This is where the Seniors in the profession,both at academic/research and industry disappoint me by not expressing their views; let me also include the professional societies in my list--they fully understand the importance of minerals-- a man buying a spoon or a car or a mobile may not realize that without minerals nothing would be there.
    Hope wisdom dawns and good happens.
    Friends, do not blame politicians and beuracrats--their in-depth technical knowledge is limited--we professionals have to take an aggressive lead to "bring home the point".

  7. Scrapping the CSM mining degree completely is a bad strategic move for UK PLC. You can be sure that Chinese universities aren't cutting back their mining programs.

  8. Training mining & mineral processing engineers is not a popular pursuit simply because the actual work is no longer in Britain. Expat working is also socially complex, very complex.
    On the copperbelt bonus front it must be understood that the transition to electric vehicles is accompanied by the development of driverless vehicles. Such vehicles will have increased availability & national fleets will be very decreased throughout developed countries. Undeveloped countries will have to fend for themselves.
    Britain does not miss mining - does it?
    Farming, fishing & mining were considered to be the most satisfying activities years ago. Now they are considered the major threats to the planet.
    Besides mining engineers, the general population needs shaking up from the attitude ' Don't go down the mine Daddy, there's plenty of coal in the cellar.'
    John Gateley, ConveyO'Wright, Indonesia

    1. Thanks John, but your first sentence is not strictly true. There is much activity in mining in Cornwall at present, with the development of lithium extraction, and new deposits of tin and copper being developed, as well as geothermal energy. There are also numerous mining and mineral processing service companies. Check out the Cornwall Mining Alliance. Many Camborne School of Mines graduates are gainfully employed in these areas.

  9. Is this change in fortune for the CSM due to Brexit? Funding patterns will sure be subject to change due to Brexit. It all reminds me of 1990 when I was invited to revitalize the Delft University’s Mining Department, make it more relevant to changed circumstances (closed coal mines, environmental concerns and regulations). The Delft Department decided that the path forward had to be through European cooperation and started sending students to the RSM. When that institution closed its mining Department, students went to the CSM. That effort grew into an European exchange (Erasmus) program involving Aachen and Helsinki as well, both for mining and processing. I must confess that I have lost track of its current status and scope, but funding is always at the bottom of these trends…

    Gus Van Weert, Oretome Ltd, Canada

    1. Interesting Gus, but I've a feeling it is not down to Brexit

    2. It's now 3.5 months later, BREXIT is a done deal and the UK is out of the Erasmus program...

    3. Yes, I will have more to say about Erasmus in the posting on Friday

  10. I was sad to read the news about CSM in your blog. I can/t help thinking that ‘pausing’ is a euphemism for closing. I’m sure Exeter’s main priority is staying up with the top universities and maybe mining does not fit in with their desired image. Anyhow a long and proud tradition is under threat. I was always impressed when visiting mines overseas how highly CSM was regarded.
    Richard Edwards, Malvern, UK

  11. I am not a mining engineer but just read every response to this obviously disturbing news. May I say that this unified expression of mutual concern will move no needle among University decision-makers, whether in the faculty of engineering or at a higher level of administration. To move the needle, your message needs to get through to those audiences. I note from the post itself that "The University says that it will explore a range of options to allow undergraduates to study mining, possibly through other engineering programmes..." but it is noteworthy that there is no mention of this being a consultative process. It might be assumed that the University will reach out for guidance regarding this decision, but why leave this to chance? There is clearly a need for advocacy from industry leaders, and leadership at many other levels, and CSM has an international constituency for this. If any MEI Blog participant wanted to express a view to the University, with whom should they make contact Barry? Similarly, is there a governmental policy level at which the evolving situation at CSM may be cause for concern, for which timely external input and support may be welcomed?

    1. Regarding your two questions Franklin, I hope that the CSM Association or the CSM Trust might provide some guidance

  12. You put the case of CSM recruiting most elegantly. I wonder if the powers to be have stopped to think and ask themselves where the materials for their, their staffs and their students mobile phones, iPads & PCs come from. Do they think that somehow they appear from nowhere, as if by magic?
    Anyone with a slight insight would know that they have to be mined & processed before they can be put together!
    Dr Noel Kantaris
    Ex CSM Senior Lecturer

  13. As mentioned by several people the question of from where and how the materials to effect the change from an economy reliant fossil fuels to that reliant on “alternate energy” does not seem to have been considered by the general public or academia as a whole. Who would mine the elements required?
    If the course were "paused" we would be one of the few countries in Europe that did not have a college offering a degree in Mining Engineering. One wonders what would happen if the universities at Achen, St Petersburg, Delft and so on were to suspend their mining courses?
    Currently the CSM is ranked 14th in the world by sharing the top 20 with Universities such as Wits, McGill and ranked higher than the University of Arizona. This ranking would count toward the overall worldwide ranking of Exeter. Without the CSM it surely would be lowered ?.
    Alan Matthews A.C.S.M. 1974

  14. I have worked with mining companies and contractors all over the world, and almost without fail when I tell them I come from Cornwall they say "Camborne School of Mines?". Although not ex CSM myself, I recognise that CSM is synonymous with turning out some of the best the world has, with past attendees now dotted all over the world. Let us not loose this great asset and knowledge base.

  15. I concur with the points made in the article and (most of) the comments above, and would like to add a perspective from a mining consultant working in the UK. The UK is a base/home to a number of world renowned mining consultancies. They continue to be held in such high regard due to the experience that is "brought back home" by (British and foreign) mining graduates (a fair majority from CSM). Whilst stopping the mining engineering undergraduate course will have an obvious impact on the UK's ability to mine their own resources, UK-based mining service industry will also suffer.

  16. This is terrible news, and comes at a time when there's increasing demand for materials globally, and a number of new mining projects underway within the UK. CSM has a well-deserved reputation and produces versatile graduates who contribute so much to mining, minerals and many other industries. It will be a sad day when all that has been thrown away. Sam Wood CSM Graduate 1983.

  17. Dear Vice-Chancellor,

    As someone who has had a close connection with Camborne School of Mines (CSM) and the University of Exeter over many years, I must express deep concern over the reports of abandoning the recruitment of students for the mining engineering course at CSM. I was CSM’s first Visiting Professor at the time when CSM became part of the University of Exeter and, as someone who has travelled all over the world to visit mining operations, I know the enormous respect with which CSM is held internationally, not just in the mining industry, but also in academic circles. Having sat on many Higher Education funding committees in the past, I know it has also always been highly regarded by our government as well.

    The problem CSM faces is a poor perception amongst young people as to what mining is all about, it is not because there is a lack of demand for graduates from this course, because the very opposite is true. So it is an image and marketing problem.

    I remember a bumper sticker I came across many years ago in Georgia, USA – ‘If it can’t be grown it has to be mined’. Historically the CSM course has been strongly oriented towards overseas metalliferous mining, not the least because many of the students have come from the developing world; although new mining institutions in these countries are now tending to provide a steady flow of home grown mining engineers.

    Nowadays in most developed countries the metalliferous sector is small compared to the large and vibrant quarrying and industrial minerals sectors. Look round at the building you are in as you read this letter, most of what you see is a product of the British non-fuel extractive industry; even the papers on your desk will contain 10-50% industrial minerals. You need properly trained mining engineers to produce these materials, backed by properly funded academic research; including facing up to the many challenges involved in ensuring that the extraction of minerals is carried out on a sustainable and environmentally acceptable basis. That is where CSM’s future should lie, together with developing the science and technology needed for the transition from fossil fuels to a zero carbon economy, where CSM has already made some highly significant pioneering steps.

    Yours sincerely,
    Colin Bristow, Cornwall

  18. Back in 1990 one mining company, Inco, eventually joined by three others, Noranda, Falconbridge and Cominco, funded an NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) Research Chair with me as the Chair holder. It was clear from the outset that a prime reason for the industrial support was to try to ensure undergraduate training continued in mineral processing at McGill: the companies wanted the trained grads and they knew I wanted (needed from a university advancement viewpoint) research funds, thus it was a win-win. The model might be worth exploring at Exeter. By the way, the industrial support started in 1990 has continued to this day, with various combinations of companies, which my successor, Kristian Waters, now enjoys.
    James A. Finch, Gerald G Hatch Professor Emeritus in Mining and Metallurgical Engineering, McGill University, Canada

  19. Barry,

    I suggest us UK residents could all write a suitable letter to our respective local MPs, can't do any harm.

    On the positive side there is a lot of activity in many UK universities in the post-graduate and research level in Minerals Engineering particularly n Hydrometallurgy. It should also be positive for the salaries of Minerals Engineers thereby attracting more undergraduates - if they can find a course!

    Good luck,



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