NEW STANDARDS for assessing professional engineers should once again allow students aspiring to chartered status to study a BEng degree followed by a specialist MSc.
That was the view of Ian Whyte, director of undergraduate studies at UMIST's Manchester Centre for Civil & Construction Engineering, speaking at a ICE Midlands debate last month.
Whyte said that the new UK Standards for Professional Engineering Competence (UKSPEC), launched by Engineering Council (UK) in December, will remove many of the artificial barriers to chartered status introduced by Sartor 97.
UK-SPEC will take effect once it is incorporated into the ICE's routes to membership.
Its predecessor, Sartor 97, demanded that students met minimum A level requirements for entry to engineering degrees, and made it clear that three and four year degrees led to IEng and CEng respectively. UK-SPEC removes these barriers.
'Under Sartor 97 the MEng was the benchmark academic qualification for chartered status; BEng graduates had to complete a 'matching section' and, initially, the Engineering Council stated that specialist MSc degrees failed to meet the matching section requirements, ' said Whyte.
'However, the professional institutions in the last two years have accepted specialist MSc degrees as meeting the requirements. This acceptance of MSc degrees is now confirmed in the new UK-SPEC.
'In this the benchmark route to chartered status is now a choice between BEng plus MSc or MEng; or BEng plus further learning in industry, ' said Whyte. 'This is to be welcomed.'
But Whyte, arguing against the motion 'Have MEng degrees reduced demand for MScs?' said that the MEng remains an excellent choice for many students.
'The MEng attracts high quality students, is liked by undergraduates and the universities and also by employers.
'MEng graduates are highly sought after and are employable.
The degree is a success story and to be welcomed, not criticised, ' said Whyte.
Arguing for the motion, Midland Geotechnical Society chairman Christina Jackson rued the lack of specialist engineers coming through the system.
'MEng graduates do not have the same depth of technical skills as MSc graduates. As a geotechnical engineer involved in recruitment, my preference is to hire engineers with an MSc in geotechnics, but very few are being produced.
'If you are educated to MEng level and eminently employable in any engineering field, why do an MSc? Certainly the drastic reduction in government grants available and the burden of student debt are great disincentives, ' said Jackson.
Whyte agreed that the cost of an MSc is a deterrent, but said that the MEng is not to be blamed.
'The problem for specialist sectors is not the MEng but the failure of MSc programmes to provide sponsorship, ' said Whyte.
The audience agreed with Whyte, voting 81% to 19% against the motion.