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UEL students to benefit from closer links with Ford Motor Company

UEL civil engineering

Former UEL engineering student is now plant manager of the giant engine manufacturing centre 

The University of East London (UEL) is establishing closer links with Ford Motor Company after re-connecting with a former student who now manages the company's vast engine manufacturing plant in Dagenham, Essex.

Paul Neighbour, who studied for an engineering degree at UEL in the 1990s, said he looking forward to building new bridges for the next generation of engineers.

“I’m open to student placements and in particular supporting projects in plant that make sense for both the students and our business,” said Mr Neighbour.
“Our environment lends itself well to time-based projects with quick-to-see results. It’s essential for me that all parties gain from the experience.”

Mr Neighbour has fond memories of his time at UEL, which helped him climb the career ladder with the giant car manufacturer.

“For me, the highlight was graduation,” he said. "The sense of achievement was immense. I underestimated the workload associated with having a full-time job, a new family, and managing through just day release to complete studies, exams and projects.”

 In 1991, Ford partnered with UEL to establish a degree course that would allow mature, experienced engineers to translate experience and previous qualifications into credits, allowing them to progress through a degree programme. 

Mr Neighbour took advantage of the partnership and reaped the benefits. 

Today, he manages a plant of 2,000 employees and over 2.5 million square feet of manufacturing floor space. The facility has the capacity to produce over one million engines a year, which are exported all over the UK, Europe, and internationally.

Mr Neighbour 56, from Essex, said he was in the first cohort on the pioneering degree programme.

“I was 32 and working as a senior quality engineer with Ford,” he said. “I started the degree at UEL in 1992, finishing in December 1993, and graduated with a BEng (Hons) in manufacturing systems engineering.

“Personally, the degree supported my ambition for career progression. Certainly, it was a key factor in gaining my first management position in Ford’s engine plant in Dagenham. It also paved the way for me to take a master’s course.

“My learning experiences in the academic environment allowed me to challenge my business world more effectively. I developed as an individual, and ultimately became a more rounded business manager.”

Equipping students with employment skills and experience is a major priority for UEL, as seen by the recent launch of four brand new degree apprenticeships in the fields of construction and engineering.

Additionally, all of UEL’s degrees in engineering are professionally accredited and offer numerous work placements as part of a student’s learning experience. 

Mr Neighbour said, “Memorably, I enjoyed the sometimes extended discussions and debates with some very knowledgeable and patient lecturers as we compared ‘theory’ with real-life practice in a large automotive business. I think we all learned a lot from the exchanges." 

And his advice to current UEL students? “It’s really important to balance academic learning with time in the business world," he said. 

“Being able to translate academic learning into real, practical situations vastly increases the rate and depth of knowledge accumulation. To support this, business placements are key.”