Department of Engineering / About Us / Strategy and Development Plans

Department of Engineering

Strategy and Development Plans

Strategy and Development Plans

Executive Summary

The Department of Engineering is the largest department at the University of Cambridge and one of the leading centres of engineering in the world. Renowned for both its teaching and research, the Department's aim is to address the world's most pressing challenges with science and technology. To achieve this aim, the Department collaborates with other disciplines, institutions, companies and entrepreneurs. The Department’s strength lies in its integrated approach to research and teaching; the unique way in which it applies its capability across all aspects of engineering and gathers partners to find solutions. To build even stronger integration, speed and agility, the Department’s philanthropic development campaign will create a new home for Engineering at West Cambridge. The new campus will set the course for 21st century engineering around the world by seamlessly interweaving research, teaching and partnership with industry. The campaign will also open opportunities for the next generation of engineers with new academic posts, studentships and schools outreach.


Since its foundation in 1875, the Department of Engineering has grown to become the largest department in the University and the largest integrated engineering department in the UK with nearly 200 academics and principal investigators, nearly 400 contract research staff and research fellows, 900 graduate students, and 1200 undergraduates.

Growth throughout its history has been consistently strong. For instance, between 2008 and 2017, the number of Principal Investigators, the number of postdoctoral researchers and the real term value of research grant expenditure have all increased by 40%. Growth has been coupled with greater integration through the development of cross-linking themes and stronger connections with other disciplines.

Internationally, Cambridge is among the top three in the QS World University Rankings for Engineering and Technology (2018) and number one outside the USA. The REF2014 assessment of UK research showed that Cambridge has the greatest concentration of world-leading engineering research in the country* and the best environment for engineering research with a perfect score unrivalled by any other general engineering submission. The combination of academic excellence and a superb environment enabled Cambridge to deliver the highest concentration of world-leading impact in general engineering, creating real benefits to industry and society more widely.

* as measured by percentage 4* multiplied by FTE submitted


The Department of Engineering seeks to benefit society by creating world-leading engineering knowledge that fosters sustainability, prosperity and resilience. We share this knowledge and transfer it to industry through publication, teaching, collaboration, licensing and entrepreneurship. By integrating engineering disciplines in one department, we can address major challenges and develop complete solutions, serving as an international hub for engineering excellence.


The Department values:

  • intellectual rigour
  • teaching, research and connections between the two
  • collaborations across disciplines
  • sharing and applying research

Structure and Staffing

The Department consists of six divisions, which represent core strengths. They build teams and facilities that can maintain and develop leading positions in engineering disciplines:

  1. Energy, fluid mechanics and turbomachinery - build on research in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics to develop a systems view of energy generation and utilisation, particularly in ground and air transport, to mitigate environmental impact.
  2. Electrical engineering - pursue fundamental electrical, electronic and photonic research at the material, device and system levels with a focus on creating integrated solutions in the fields of nanotechnology, sensing, energy generation, energy conversion, displays and communications.
  3. Mechanics, materials and design - extend fundamental and applied research in mechanics, materials, and design, exploiting cross-disciplinary partnerships across the University; and build on existing strengths to develop excellence in bioengineering and healthcare systems research.
  4. Civil engineering - advance the mechanics of civil and structural engineering systems within the broader context of the design, construction and operation of sustainable infrastructure and the stewardship of Earth's resources and environment.
  5. Manufacturing and management - develop new understanding of manufacturing technology, operations, strategy and policy, in close partnership with industry, in order to improve industrial performance.
  6. Information engineering - develop fundamental theory and applications relating to the generation, distribution, analysis and use of information in engineering and biological systems.

The quality of the staff and research students within these divisions are the key to the Department’s success. Their recruitment is driven by the aim to create “world-leading engineering knowledge,” so the Department seeks and attracts the best candidates in the world. Academics are sought who can both increase the strength of a research discipline within a division and also connect across the Department through strategic themes.

Recruitment is also used to maintain a healthy balance of new blood and experienced staff across the Department. In addition, there is a drive to increase the number of female academics (Women in Engineering). Students and postdoctoral researchers are an important output of the Department, but also provide excellent gearing for academics to build research capacity, so further growth in numbers and improved training is planned.


21st century engineers is the top-level strategic mission for the Department of Engineering - inspiring future generations of engineers, equipping them with the best integrated engineering education, and engaging them at the leading-edge of engineering thinking, so that they can change the world.

Four research themes open opportunities for adventurous research and address major challenges:

  • Energy, transport and urban infrastructure - creating sustainable integrated solutions for the provision of energy, transport, and infrastructure
  • Manufacturing, design and materials - transforming our engineered world by understanding the whole process from the fundamentals of understanding materials, through design, to manufacturing, and including service and reuse
  • Bioengineering - applying the engineering approach to understanding biological systems and supporting innovation in healthcare, creating new knowledge and solutions for biological and medical applications, and biologically-inspired solutions elsewhere in engineering
  • Complex, resilient and intelligent systems - developing modelling, simulation and analytical methods for understanding large complex systems, ensuring their resilience through new approaches to optimisation, decision-making and control, which extend to creating intelligent systems

These four research themes are detailed with sets of sub-missions.

In addition to themes, the formal structure is cross-connected by subgroups, centres, partnerships, seminars and a host of less formal mechanisms, which bring together members from different groups to collaborate.


The undergraduate course has proved to be extremely popular and successful, attracting students from all around the world with an annual intake of over 300. It is four years in length with largely common courses for the first two years followed by a choice of options in later years. This distinctive structure gives plenty of opportunity for innovation and development. Modules are constantly being introduced and updated to reflect advances in engineering, including the Department's research themes. This often involves new ways of collaborating with other departments.

Industry and Entrepreneurship

Annual research income is GBP40M. One third of this income comes from collaboration with industry; generating knowledge for companies that can be translated into new and improved products and services. Research income strategy is driven by the intent to address systems-level research challenges with integrated, collaborative approaches. Larger grants of longer duration are needed, which matches the trend seen in sponsors’ calls. Industrial support through long-term strategic partnerships is seen as essential for maintaining diversity in the portfolio and keeping the research relevant. Resources are prioritised to support major bids, industrial relationships and, in addition, opportunities for early career researchers, such as fellowships. Staff and students are also encouraged and supported in entrepreneurship and have formed over 50 spin-out and start-up companies.


The Department moved to Trumpington Street in 1920 thanks to a generous donation from an alumnus, Sir Dorabji Tata. This central city site is currently the prime location for teaching and approximately half of the Department's research. The Department also has a significant footprint on the West Cambridge Site, primarily for research laboratories.

Over the next ten years, the Department will create a new campus for engineering at West Cambridge, which will draw all of its assets together in one seamlessly, open, integrated whole. This 100,000m2 facility will set the agenda for 21st century engineering internationally. Academics, students and industrial partners will mingle and often work together throughout the site with flexible facilities to enable speed, agility and creativity in building understanding and solving problems.

Ahead of this move west, existing facilities must be not only be maintained, but improved, so that our world-leading staff and students are not held back. The Dyson Centre for Engineering Design is approaching its official launch. It is a modern workspace where engineering students can come together outside of the classroom to think, experiment, design, build and exchange ideas. The James Dyson Building for Engineering will also be completed soon and it will provide new space for multidisciplinary teams aligned with strategic themes.

Workshops and research laboratories are supported by teams of technicians, electrical engineers and mechanical designers who work together to design and manufacture major test rigs for use across the Department. In addition, a team of computer officers and technicians support activity at both a Departmental and Divisional level. A central server room, set up as a Small Research Facility, has intensive research computing capability which is available across the Department and the network infrastructure, core file server, web servers and various other essential infrastructure services are maintained centrally by the Department. The Department also makes extensive use of the University's High Performance Computing Service.

Development Plans

The Department is working closely with the University's Development Office on the GBP2 billion philanthropic campaign. The Department’s move west is one of the campaign’s major projects. There are also projects to create new academic posts, studentships, school outreach activities and much more. The aim is to create a world-class physical environment that matches our vision for 21st century engineering and a myriad of opportunities for future generations of engineers.

More Information

Please contact Philip Guildford, Director of Research (+44 (0)1223 332671), if you wish to:

  • learn more about the Department’s strategy,
  • collaborate in the Department’s research programme as a sponsor, industrial partner or entrepreneur, or
  • support the Department’s fundraising campaign.

Those with local access can reach the internal strategy page and download additional documents.