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Diversion ahead


Few of the 130-plus ICE and Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) Council members and trustees that gathered in the Great Hall of One Great George Street this week could have been left in any doubt that a merger of the institutions was anything but a great idea.

We heard about the benets of inter-disciplinary learning and knowledge sharing, the broadening of membership networks, the increased voice and in uence that a 150,000-strong membership affords and the powerful lead that this would give to the rest of engineering.

We heard about the clear synergies that exist between the two organisations and their memberships, specically the alignment of vision, values, purpose and business plans. And we saw at st hand the way that joint activities, such as the recent od management and waste working groups, could deliver more than the sum of the parts.

Then, of course, there are the potential economies of scale and bene that this could bring to members. Bearing in mind the recent (and future) ICE debate over subscription rises to meet the cost of providing the professional services that members desire, this practical reality cannot be understated. Surely it's just a question of sorting out the name and merger is a done deal? Well not quite.

Without question the world has come full circle since the two institutions split in 1847.

More than ever we see civil and mechanical engineers working hand-in-hand to tackle society's most pressing challenges.

Inter-disciplinary working has become commercially vital and prompted the movement away from discipline specialisation in undergraduate education.

And as IMechE president Alec Osborn pointed out, to design an earth-moving machine with no knowledge of soil mechanics would be as foolish as designing a tunnel-boring machine with no mechanical engineering input.

So it is appropriate that this unique meeting was held in IK Brunel's bicentenary year, considering his lack of enthusiasm for the original departure of the mechanicals. IKB stated at the time: 'I fear it [formation of a new IMechE] would create a diversion to our Institution of Engineers and so far I think would be open to objection.' Now as then, engineers rely on the input from and interaction with many disciplines.

Clearly a merger between the ICE and IMechE is a great idea - in principle. But should it happen in practice?

There are a few thorny issues such as membership structure, subscription rates and regional activities, which, while not show-stoppers, will certainly require signicant attention.

As the meeting heard: 'the reality is that this decision is of such magnitude and consequence that one plus one must add up, not just to three, but to 10. And while achievable, that is a tough proposition'.

Gordon Masterton is right to describe doing nothing as an opportunity missed - a merger with the IMechE would bring huge rewards. But is it what most members really want?

After the dust settles, the ICE Council must take a good look at the whole proposition.

Idealistically it should happen tomorrow. Realistically it is likely to become a time-consuming distraction.

As Brunel might have said: 'I fear it (merger of the ICE and IMechE) would create a diversion to our Institution and so far I think would be open to objection.' Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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