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Letters: Mastering expertise

Meeting

Engineers: Qualification levels determine status

 

Philip Brown (NCE 8 January) rightly highlights the need to avoid focusing on so-called “inputs” during the process of awarding professional registration. The engineering profession’s approach to assessing competence shifted away from looking at inputs to consideration of the outcomes with the publication of the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC) in 2003. This outcomes-focused approach was broadly welcomed at the time and the consultation that was completed during the recent periodic review of the standards re-affirmed this support.

I am sometimes asked to explain the difference between an IEng and a CEng. Interestingly enough, I never start by describing the inputs (ie BEng or MEng). If you think in terms of outcome, then you would expect an incorporated engineer to be able to competently develop a design in accordance with a code while demonstrating a solid understanding of the limits of the code, whereas you might expect a CEng to be able to challenge the limits of the code and develop designs in areas where codification is not yet established. To be able to do this, you must have developed your underpinning knowledge and understanding to an advanced level which, as a ready reckoner, is exemplified by a Masters level of education. You can also develop similar differentiating examples for those not practising in a design role but perhaps those in programme, risk or commercial site-based roles.

It is worth noting that the profession moved its underpinning knowledge requirement for CEng to Masters level in the late 1990s to address international perceptions about the failure of the UK to keep up with the global developments in professional standards. That these concerns have now dissipated has been attributed by some to this decision. Yet we see many letters to this publication decrying the perceived status of engineers when compared to our peers elsewhere in Europe, without recognition of the fact that, on the Continent, such status is generally associated with a Masters level of academic attainment.

  • Jon Prichard (F), Engineering Council, London WC1V 7EX

Older members will get some amusement from current agonising about the right degree for Chartered status.
In the 1960s, many engineers achieved corporate (CEng MICE) membership with a Higher National Diploma (HND). For those who went to university, a three year bachelor degree was the norm and very few took Master’s degrees. If one now needs MEng for chartered status, does that really indicate higher achievement, or just downgrading of the labels? Our conclusion at the time was that what you did after graduation mattered far more.

  • Mike Keatinge, Highbank, Marston Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 4BL

 

Loss of balance

I see some are getting restless at their assumed loss of power and privilege if feminism in its wider form were taken seriously. Case in point. It’s exactly for these confused and muddled male views that it is important to keep talking and discussing, defining and refining it. So I wholeheartedly agree with Peter Leckie and David Yarwood that further debate is much needed (NCE 15 January). Here’s a question: where is the current power imbalance? And would you suggest we need maleism to address it?

  • Katja Leyendecker, leyendecker.katja@gmail.com

Qualifications versus experience

In your editorial, among many key questions, you have highlighted a most crucial apparent anomaly which impacts the heart of our profession. That is: why do we put such weight on academic achievement when so much of the engineer’s work is practical?

Ideally these questions deserve a conference or a major debate to crystallize thoughts from the wider profession. In the meantime, however, even at the expense of being viewed a little impolite, I should like to make a few observations.

Complexities do arise unannounced in most large or small engineering projects and can only be recognised and resolved by adequate academic knowledge. A systematic study of the fundamentals of complex aspects of engineering is only possible at the educational stage as the working environment of the professional is largely project-based. Greater rigour and command of academic knowledge can be achieved at Masters and doctorate levels of education. In essence it is only this knowledge which differentiates between builders, technicians and engineers, although great ideas can certainly come from any level including from outside the profession.

Your call to trust in youth should also be founded on realism. Unless adequate effort is applied during education, training and supervision, it is not fair to load young engineers with responsibility and thus potentially endanger society.

Would any of us like to travel by a plane flown by an inadequately trained pilot?

Although rare, collapse of a slab, column, bridge or excavation can sometimes be catastrophic and must be taken seriously at all levels of the profession.

To most engineers, like me, ours is a wonderful profession yet it needs to be represented realistically. The profile and achievements should be widely publicised but attempts should always be made to attract only those who have the necessary aptitude and enthusiasm and are likely to be satisfied by its offerings in the long term. In view of immense contribution of our profession to the advancement of mankind, we should never feel ashamed to recognise that some people can also make great contribution to society from outside our profession.

  • Arvind Kumar (F),Kumar Associates, 2 Penn Road, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP9 2PD

 

Benefits of speed

I tend to agree with Martin Kirkpatrick (NCE 8 January) about the High Speed 3 (HS3) proposal, at least in as far as it doesn’t seem to be part of an ideal solution for improving the trans-Pennine railway.

For a start, HS3 is a bit of a misnomer. Judging from the proposed journey time between Manchester and Leeds it would appear to be a 125mph line and therefore not in the same league as High Speed 1 or High Speed 2, and quite rightly so, because the cities to be served are relatively close together.

There need be no capacity problem once the trans-Pennine line has been electrified. There are currently five trains per hour between Leeds and Manchester (with destinations beyond, both east and west) but the trains are relatively short so capacity could easily be doubled, or even trebled, with longer trains.

The new line would be just for saving 22 minutes between Leeds and Manchester (and to be fair, potentially the same saving on all coast to coast through services). Twenty two minutes is just less than 50% of the current journey time but this is only really meaningful if your home/place of work/destination is adjacent to the stations. Taking the door to door journey time into account, the overall time saving might be 33% or even less.
Is enough effort being spent in finding ways to upgrade the whole trans-Pennine route by means of increased line speed, better junctions and improved signalling? I can’t help feeling that the proposal has emerged as a vote winning ploy rather than something that has come from an objective analysis of possible solutions.

  • Roger Hand (M), The Cottage, Stoke St Gregory, Taunton, TA3 6EW

Classified research

December 2014 marked the publication of the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF2014), the latest periodic assessment of UK research quality that has significant implications for future funding of civil engineering departments.

In short, research has been assessed across measures of research power (which ultimately determines the overall funding allocation from government), research environment, quality of research publications and, for the first time, the impact of university research on industry and policy.

The results reveal that civil and construction engineering research in the UK is still internationally excellent and has strength and breadth in a number of universities.

Perhaps this is well known. But what might surprise many readers is that only 14 universities made submissions to the civils category - this compares to 23 in 2008 and 43 in 1991. There are of course many more than 14 civil engineering departments in the UK, so what are the reasons for the decline in submissions?

In many instances decisions would be taken outside of a civil engineering department, with university management judging they would receive more money if they submit their civil engineering staff to the General Engineering (62 submissions - up from 33 in 1991), Architecture, Built Environment & Planning (45 submissions) or Geography & Environmental Studies (67 submissions) categories.

Many letters to NCE argue that civil engineering merits greater respect, and the ICE has recently launched its election campaign emphasising the importance of infrastructure.

Yet if civil and construction engineering is no longer classified as distinct, might this diminish the status of the subject? What longer term impact might there be on civil engineering education, and the capacity of the civil and construction industry in the UK?

Or perhaps this reflects a shift towards inter-disciplinarity that should be embraced, and arguably is already being led, by civil engineers?

  • Professor Richard Dawson, director, iBUILD Infrastructure Centre, School Civil Engineering & Geosciences, Newcastle University, richard.dawson@newcastle.ac.uk

Busway popularity challenge

Guided bus

Guided buses: Demand is the acid test for viability

 

Alan Fell asked if bus drivers need to have mechanical guidance and cited the busway being built to Leigh (NCE 8 January). This however is in Manchester not Edinburgh. There was a busway project in Edinburgh which cost £25M.

The claimed logic for guided busways using former railways is that it is cheaper than rail transit. What this omits is public acceptance. Committed car travellers will rarely switch to a bus. Fell only needs to go 20km to Runcorn, where an unguided busway has operated safely at 60km/h since 1969. It was supposed to cater for 50% of trips in Runcorn. It got to 15% in the 1980s but has since declined to 5%.

Professor LJS Lesley, 30 Moss Lane, Liverpool L9 8AJ

Editor’s note: Apologies, it was NCE’s radar that was off, not Alan Fell’s.

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