By the early 1980s, an increasing number of students enrolled in combined degrees. Student demand recovered, and cut-off scores for entry began to rise rapidly. In order to increase post-graduate student numbers, it was recommended that the Faculty re-identify itself primarily as a research school, with undergraduate responsibilities attached. The Faculty needed to educate professional engineers, however the survival of individual departments hinged on attracting high-calibre post-graduate students and on greatly expanding research output. Research had acquired an added dimension as it offered a way to reassert some of the romance of engineering, the prospect of forging solutions to emerging problems. During this time, engineering developed a strong relationship with life sciences, developing automated blood pressure control systems for seriously ill patients and the bionic ear. This resulted in the introduction of undergraduate units in microbiology and biological processes such as fermentation and sterlisation. This relationship with life sciences created a solution to a long-standing problem: the absence of women from engineering.
Resources were found to have the faculty computer terminal facility commissioned, however additional sources of funding needed to be secured, to ensure that the Faculty could maintain the minimum standards required to produce capable and prepared graduates. In 1981 a Master of Engineering Science program was designed and tailored to the needs of the students from different countries. Powerful links were created, and over the next decade or so, 230 students came from overseas to study Engineering. The Master of Engineering Science turned into an almost quid-pro-quo program, and Australian students benefited from exchange in countries where they learnt first-hand different ways of applying engineering principles in varying contexts and broadening their cultural understanding.
Criticism of engineering feats also grew. Artificially controlled urban waterways, sewerage treatment systems, even the large dams needed to supply urban water needs, were suddenly easily cast as problems rather than solutions. In either case, critique was easy and solutions complex. Surveying, although immune to the critique of engineering as environmentally destructive (‘we didn’t do it, we just mapped it’), also had problems during this period. Without a full professor to defend its interests, whilst the surveying output was first class and work valuable, many thought it was closer to Applied Science than Engineering, and a small undergraduate intake affected the Faculty’s overall budgetary position. Luckily, Surveying had a growing post-graduate and research output, and the research work it did was valuable in the community.
Towards the end of the ‘80s, engineers were disproportionately represented in public authorities, and the overall tendency was for engineers to be more involved with management than technical matters, and the increasing size and complexity of modern management seemed to require more formal preparation. This resulted in the Faculty joining forces with the School of Management to run continuing education courses in Engineering Management, and the Institute of Engineers Australia mandated that undergraduate engineering courses include not less than 10% of studies in management, business and social responsibility. The Faculty was widely supported by the Commonwealth, and with a budget of $11m, only $1m was generated from external sources. This time also saw the introduction of fees for Australia students under a deferred payment system.