Students from the University of Derby’s Centre for Mineral Products have the chance each year to visit mineral extraction and mineral processing operations across the country on a tour organised for them by their academic leads, in partnership with the Institute of Quarrying. But with most students already working in the industry, what more can the tour tell them about the sector?
As an applied university, the University of Derby believes in immersing our students in the industries they plan to work in following graduation, either through work placements or experience during their undergraduate years.
It’s a slightly different perspective for those on our Centre for Mineral Products courses. Most, if not all, are already working in the industry and are enhancing their skills and knowledge though our higher apprentice, foundation degree, honours degree or diploma programmes.
However, this is not a homogenous sector, by any means, and undergraduates specialising in one area of the industry may have never had the opportunity to see for themselves how concrete is made, for example, or how particular minerals are extracted.
Although optional, our study tours of operations across the UK provide that clear insight into the process and practice. One student, working in asphalt production, recalled that an unexpected benefit of taking part in the study tour arrived when an exam question challenged him to describe the processes of a cement works, something he would have found all the more difficult had he not seen it first hand.
Perspectives and challenges
No amount of lectures, reading material or videos can replicate the sight, sound, smell and scale of the operations.
In an industry where safety is paramount, there is a limit to how much ‘hands on’ experience the study tour can offer in such a short space of time.
But students get to see the cutting edge of the technology that the industry has developed, such as sophisticated dust suppression equipment, as well as advances in quarry design, mineral extraction, processing and management
They also have the opportunity to appreciate that each site has its own unique perspectives and challenges. The latest tour, which took students to Lancashire and Yorkshire, included a visit to a number of sites in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
With more stringent planning processes for national park areas, noise, dust and transport movements to and from the site are subject to huge scrutiny, and strict compliance to the tight planning conditions agreed for their activities is required.
Understanding the industry’s value
There is no doubt that the whole concept of mineral extraction can commonly be perceived as being environmentally damaging. Therefore, in line with national planning policies, all mineral operations are ever more sustainable; not only environmentally, but also economically and socially. Our way of life is very much dependent on the use of minerals, whether for construction, transportation or even foodstuffs.
It is easy to see the industry as destructive and capitalistic; that the only value it sees in land is economic. But there is less understanding of the importance of restoration, and maximising the ecological value of the land through the process which takes place when a quarry reaches the end of its productive life or a pre-determined timescale has elapsed.
While those are issues which can debated at length, and are among those that our students will no doubt encounter during their working lives, our focus is their education, the sharing of knowledge, the chance to compare and contrast different techniques and practices, the interconnectedness of the various types of operation, and last, but not least, the true value – across multiple measures – of the UK minerals industry.
For more information about our Centre for Mineral Products Professional Development courses, click here.