ICE Members and Fellows could receive ballot papers as soon March to decide whether Associate Members can become corporate, voting members of the Institution.
Council approved the proposals put forward by the Integration Working Party for associate members to have voting rights 'with safeguards' and that the bylaws should be rewritten. This requires a two thirds majority in the ballot before the changes can be put to the Privy Council to allow the ICE's Charter to be ammended.
Integration working party chairman Joe Dwyer said the decision was one of the most important the ICE would ever take.
'We have to decide whether the ICE wishes to start the millennium effectively disenfranchising a professionally qualified part of the membership, ' he said.
'Giving Associate Members voting rights will allow them to play their part in the Institution. It will allow us to disband BIET as a separate organisation and integrate its members fully.'
ICE is committed though its routes to membership to increasing the number of associate members. It expects the principal growth in membership in the future to be in the AM IEng class, attracting civil engineers who have taken a three year degree course but joined employers who give them no support in further study while they gain qualifying experience.
Dwyer said there was little chance of associate members ever achieving a majority either on the ICE roll or in Council. 'We should not worry if they could attain a majority, because we are already committed, through new routes to membership, to regard them as first class, not second class members, ' said his paper to Council.
The proportion of AMICE members is expected to rise from 8% to 28%, he said, making associate members a significant minority but never a majority of the ICE.
The bylaw changes proposed do include safeguards on Council votes which would require a majority of Fellows and Members to be present. And while associate members could become ICE vice presidents, only Fellows and Members could become Institution President.
David Orr expressed concern that it would be hard to secure the two thirds majority for the changes as many people were unhappy at associate members becoming corporate members as it gives the impression that associate membership is equivalent to membership.
Dwyer said he believed there was confusion over what corporate membership meant. Corporate membership simply means the right to vote on the affairs of the ICE, he reiterated.
Scott Steadman said that the ICE must look forward to the new review process. for AMICE. 'It is highly rigorous and it is ridiculous that associate members should not be allowed to participate in Institution affairs.'
The President agreed. 'I am totally in support of the changes, ' he said.