THE CHARTERED Institute of Building is considering plans to recruit civil engineers by offering chartered status to students who take revamped Incorporated Engineer courses, NCE learned this week.
Universities are already developing plans to modify their IEng courses so that those taking them can achieve CIOB status.
Academics believe that IEng courses could get CIOB accreditation if they were adapted to include modules on construction management.
The universities have decided to act now because of the low take up of places on Engineering Council and ICE-approved IEng degrees.
Some universities are threatening to abandon IEng courses altogether, and plan instead to market CIOB-accredited construction engineering courses - focusing on management skills - to prospective civils students.
Professor Brian Lee of Portsmouth University said: 'Chartered status is very important to young people going to university, and their parents. We are acting in response to a fundamental mistake in sales and marketing that no-one in the commercial world would ever have made. It's difficult to be clear yet but there is a group of about 20 universities which could offer construction engineering in place of or as well as the IEng degree.'
More than 40 of Britain's 70 universities are thought to be preparing to remodel their civil engineering degree courses as IEng courses.
But according to Lee, IEng courses are attracting as few as 15 applicants in some cases, even though they need at least 30 students to be commercially viable.
Lee said: 'Accreditation of the CIOB (construction engineering) course depends on the output standards of graduates rather than 10 A-level points for an IEng. It would produce a civil engineer with management skills and less training in higher analytical skills. Research suggests there is a place in the civil engineering market for such a person.'
CIOB could agree to confer chartered status on incorporated civil engineers at a meeting on 18 December. But CIOB director of education and professional development Chris Williams was unwilling to commit the institute to the plan as NCE went to press. 'Until we have agreement between all our standard setters and accreditors we don't have an official policy or strategy. There has been a lot of work going on in this area but I can't comment at the moment.' An official announcement is expected before Christmas.
ICE's professional development department has already received letters from academics warning of the threat to its future membership.
Professional development director Richard Larcombe said ICE was not acting on the threat because it was working towards the aims set out in the SARTOR guidelines. 'We are putting in place the SARTOR rules which were approved by Council last year. Universities must make their own decisions about their courses,' he said.
Engineering Council director of engineering regulation Andrew Ramsay said it was 'particularly unfortunate that a chartered body not recognised by the Engineering Council is snapping at the heels of the ICE,' but defended the EngC's entrenched position. He said: 'If the civil engineering market prefers more management-based courses then arguably it is better for things to go that way.'