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. Cross-linking themes foster connections. A major philanthropic development programme within the Department's strategy will create new academic posts, fund new studentships, regenerate and extend facilities, and support outreach to schools.


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 approximately 150 faculty, 260 contract research staff and research fellows, 650 research students, and 1200 undergraduates.

Growth throughout its history has been consistently strong. For instance, between 2000 and 2013, research expenditure tripled, the number of contract research staff more than doubled, and the number of research students nearly doubled. Rapid growth has been coupled with greater integration through the development of cross-linking themes and stronger connections with other disciplines.

Internationally, Cambridge leads the Times Higher Education Rankings for Engineering and Technology (2014-15) outside the USA, jockeying for pole position among the top four American institutions. 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.


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.


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

  1. Energy, transport and urban infrastructure - creating sustainable integrated solutions for the provision of energy, transport, information, buildings, water and waste treatment in the context of the urban environment.
  2. Uncertainty, risk and resilience - developing modelling, simulation and analytical methods for understanding large complex systems and ensuring their resilience through new approaches to optimisation, decision-making and control that take full account of uncertainty and risk.
  3. 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.
  4. Inspiring research through industrial collaboration - significantly reducing the time from research to large-scale implementation through improved design and management of research collaborations and knowledge transfer, building on the DoEng’s world-leading research.

In addition to themes, the formal structure above 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 over GBP30M. 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 remains the prime location for teaching and much of the Department's research, but needs improvement and upgrading. The Department also continues to increase its footprint on the West Cambridge Site, primarily for research laboratories. Over GBP23M has been spent on developments on this site and at West Cambridge from 2008 to 2013. Donations have played a key role.

For teaching, the aim is to provide facilities that are not only functional, but also cast engineering in the right light to students, prospective students and visiting school children. Research infrastructure strategy is driven by the need to provide academics with sufficient high-quality space to accommodate their research students and staff, who need facilities for physical experiments alongside those for theory and modelling, reflecting a Department strength in the fundamental analysis of physical phenomena. In addition to space for the divisions focussed on their disciplinary strengths, the research income and thematic strategies have created a growing need for flexible multidisciplinary space.

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 with objectives to invest in students, posts and infrastructure and to build ever stronger links with other institutions and companies across the world. There are three main thrusts to the Department's Development Campaign:

  • Engineering Foundations to create teaching and research facilities worthy of one of the best engineering departments in the world.
  • Engineering Frontiers to create new posts that secure the Department's future and push the boundaries of engineering in alignment with our research strategy.
  • Engineering Futures to nurture the next generation of engineering leaders from school to the start of their careers with a particular focus on PhD scholarships, postdoctoral fellowships and outreach to schools.

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.