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Letters: Will civil engineering survive as a respected profession in the UK?

Will civil engineering survive as a respected profession in the UK?

Having read the President’s letter (NCE 26 May) arguing for the retention of non-graduate routes to CEng/MICE I feel assured that construction projects will increasingly be led by the best qualified and publicly respected professionals − the architects.

The year is 2011, not 1811. There is no way it can be argued now that non-graduate chartered civil engineers will rank in public esteem with architects who will have a protected title and a Masters degree. It’s simple quality assurance.

Architects have taken over leadership in projects as diverse as bridges, pylons and estuary crossings without any hint of resistance from the ICE Council or recent presidents.

I am sure that the President would expect his dentist, doctor, lawyer or pharmacist to be graduates in their respective subjects. What professions does the ICE president believe shouldn’t be graduate entry?
In the 18th century there were physicians, surgeons and surgeon-barbers all fighting for professional turf.

One of the professions ceased to exist. Will civil engineering survive as a recognised profession in the UK? I don’t think so. Architects have all but won. Civil engineers can expect to act as technicians, and that’s another reason youngsters shy away.

  • Bruce Latimer (M),

I was heartened to read Peter Hansford’s letter (NCE 26 May).

While I accept that there is a need for people of the highest academic ability in the profession, we must not forget that civil engineering is essentially practical and that for every high-flying genius, we need someone prepared to wear the muddy boots.

My entrance to the profession was through the Institution of Municipal Engineers when, at 16 years of age, I became an engineering learner and indentured pupil.

Although I studied by day release, and later by distance learning, I became fully qualified at 23 and had to wait until 25 to be admitted as a member. This ahead of my then colleagues who were all older and degree qualified.

My experience has only confirmed my belief that there is equal space in the Institution for members qualified by experience as for those qualified academically. They may both fill different spaces in the profession but both have value, and a hands-on, muddy boots training has equal value.

I exhort the ICE Council to ensure that there is a continuing route to membership via practical experience as well as academic excellence and that members arriving by this route have equal status and value.

  • Steve Burstow (M), “King’s Pawn”, Wheal Leisure, Perranporth, Cornwall TR6 0EY


Capturing the nation’s mood

There is an element of naivety in Antony Oliver’s gung-ho comments on infrastructure development (NCE 26 April).

The conclusion in his article on HS2 and consultation at a local level is that “the onus is on us to work with local communities to make the case for new infrastructure” and if “done correctly we will enter a new era of unprecedented cooperation”.

Stirring stuff! All we need to do is put the case convincingly, and fair-minded people will understand and support whatever is in the national interest.

That doesn’t seem to me to be the mood of the nation at all: it is much closer to being “if anyone is going to be disadvantaged then the scheme should not proceed”. If the disadvantaged were to recognise the benefits to others, drop their objections and cooperate, that would indeed be unprecedented.

Perhaps I’m wrong; perhaps there would be no fuss over spending cuts, for example, if only they had been explained correctly. But I suspect that the outcome of major schemes is not in the hands of engineers; a politician will have to decide and in doing so override many resolute objections.

  • George Tedbury (M), 34 Springfield Drive, Calne, Wiltshire

Editor’s note: For the record, the full conclusion in my comment piece referred to above was: “Done correctly we will enter a new era of unprecedented cooperation. Get it wrong and the nation will be forced to
simply limp along with out of date infrastructure and be progressively left behind by the
rest of the world.”

Who’s making the real money?

As I understand it, through its new tuition fee policy, the government is saving £500M and in the process is loading students with some £8bn of debt. That does not seem to make good economic sense.

The loan companies will also make £500M profit for providing their services. The savings are a fraction of the cost of the EU and the bailout provided to failing EU members - that the British tax payer is funding.

I cannot understand how any parent/grandparent could possibly endorse a situation where the young are loaded with debt of at least £60k when you add in accommodation costs and compound interest of the Retail Price Index +3%.

We are failing in our duty if we saddle our future generations with these debts. It looks like very few will be able to look forward to ever owning their own home or raising families.

  • Ron Watson (M), 10 Marlborough Road, Marton in Cleveland TS7 8JH

Planes for the poor, trains for the rich?

Although the business case for High Speed 2 (HS2) may seem sound, I wonder how much a ride on this engineering marvel will actually cost.

I have a feeling that, current crop of greedy train operators considered, it will indeed test the ordinary traveller’s budget.

I know it’s not quite comparing like with like, but I can now fly from east Midlands to Newquay for a mere £27, the train would cost £132 and it’s not even a High Speed 1.

With budget airlines clearly here to stay, HS2, especially when extended to Manchester, will need to be very competitive to lure people away. Unless, ironically, the train becomes the chosen transport of the rich, while the poor simply slum it and fly.

  • Ben Zabulis,

Let’s factor in productivity

I commute weekly between London and South Staffordshire, a potentially ideal High Speed 2 (HS2) customer.

Today, I got out my laptop but found myself sharing with a couple of chatty girls from Sheffield. I also got stuck on my own task for the journey so productivity was next to zero - though I managed some thinking.

I reckoned that on a good day I can work effectively about 50% of the train journey if it is off-peak and not too crowded so that I can spread out a bit. The train is about 50% of the whole journey.

So productivity for the journey part of a travel day is down by at least 75%. To me, all time not leisure time is work time so for a whole travel day productivity is down to about 60% of its potential at best.

That’s a lot of unproductive work, but HS2 will shift up to 14,000 people per hour − which HS2 would claim as success!

  • Bryn Bird (M),

Who is representing women?

In Viewpoint (NCE 26 May) Mark Elborne quite rightly laments female engineers’ lack of numbers and profile in our patriarchal profession, and notes his company’s laudable efforts to address this with their “Women’s Network”.

Surely things are improving now? I turn six pages to see the 30 National, Regional and International candidates for ICE Council Elections. Number of women − zero!

  • Neil MacInnes (M), An Fhaire, Balnain, Glen Urquhart, Inverness IV63 6TJ

Big game hunting

As Mark Elborne puts it (NCE 26 May) “the patriarchal nature of our profession” − I applaud your nicely lined-up QED: on page 25 of the same issue there are 30 Council candidates out of which zero are women.

It’s a chicken and egg situation. The profession only exists because it is highly patriarchal. It chases these big (boys) projects.

A women-dominated profession would most likely assess long-term consequences and advocate smaller community-based solutions.

Instead we are still building and widening motorways only to clog them up again; still proposing glamour solutions for the rich such as High Speed 2 .

By doing so, we are manoeuvring ourselves into an evolutionary dead end. For its survival this Institution must define what sustainability means to it and come to terms with the financial models and economic systems as they are steeply pitched against morality, social fairness and equality.

Stewards of the environment, we are currently not. Chasers of unsustainable mammoth projects, we are.

  • Katja Leyendecker,

Has the ICE set the right targets?

Regarding the recently reported 2011 ICE membership satisfaction survey (NCE last week), I am not sure I would be taking much comfort in results based on less than nine per cent of the membership.

The survey report accepts the results are affected by a non-response bias, though it takes comfort in the fact that this also occurred last year − so at least we are comparing the same potentially unrepresentative sample!

I would hazard a guess that many of those who did not respond refused to take part because they did not feel the results would be acted upon, inevitably skewing the results away from those less than enthusiastic with the ICE’s performance.

Even if we were to accept that the results are representative, I am not sure my company would be very pleased with the suggestion that nearly 30% of customers were unsatisfied with our performance. The statement that the ICE was “pleased that members’ satisfaction…has not fallen from last year” hardly suggests a very demanding target has been set for service to members.

Clearly, given the level of response to a blanket survey and the acceptance of a non-response bias, a representative sample should be selected using other methods such as telephone surveys.

Letters to the editor

NCE welcomes letters from readers.

We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Muddy boots of a Chartered Engineer vs bloody hands of a Surgeon. Both professional, both have lives of people depend on their skills. So why could we allow anyone on the street to be called an Engineer. I rest my case!

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