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Lord Henry Chilver - a pioneer of engineering education

Lord Chilver died at the beginning of July. In addition to being a distinguished engineer, a politician and a member of the ICE for 65 years, his greatest mark will be left on educating the next generation of engineers, ensuring they have the right skills to deliver future infrastructure projects.

Chilver was born in 1926 and his education began at Southend High School for Boys, and after he completed his mechanical engineering degree in 1947 and a PhD in civil engineering in 1951, Chilver became a lecturer in 1952, teaching at the University of Bristol. He then moved to take up roles at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, University College London and Cranfield University, where he was vice-chancellor.

The Chilver Report, raised new expectations of the standard of training and education of engineers

But his true impact on engineering education came in the early 1980s when Chilver was chairman of the Northern Ireland Higher Education review group, tasked with producing a report on how to unify the Initial Teacher Education used in Northern Ireland.

The report, now known as the Chilver Report, raised new expectations of the standard of training and education of engineers and as an outcome, shaped the debate at the ICE for much of the late 20th century.

Chilver’s focus for the report was to tackle the rapid expansion of engineering education, leading to a potential fall in standards. Among its 21 recommendations, one stipulated candidates should achieve minimum grades to qualify. This would have undermined many college courses at the time, and this, among other issues, such as the length of time taken to qualify, meant from the start the recommendations were subject to modification and challenge. Ultimately, the greatest legacy has perhaps been the increasing investment by the ICE in regional support staff for aspirant engineers.

Services to engineering

Aside from being a member of the ICE, joining as a student in 1947, Chilver served as ICE vice President between in 1981 and 1983. During this time, Chilver chaired the membership and professional conduct committee and the arbitration advisory board.

He was the author of several books and papers on structural theory and was awarded the ICE’s Telford Medal in 1962 for a paper on structural problems with cold formed steel.

Chilver was also recognised for his services to engineering when he was knighted in 1978 and in 1987 he was made a life peer as Baron Chilver of Cranfield in the County of Bedfordshire - one of the few engineers to be rewarded in this way.

Enjoyable company

Much of my time is spent in talking to senior members and colleagues about the future skills requirements and capacity of civil engineers. When I first joined the ICE the same issues were being addressed by Sir Henry Chilver and this is particularly pertinent for an institution such as the ICE, actively persuading government of the need for investment in infrastructure, as we must ensure that a new generation of engineers with the right skills is available to deliver infrastructure.

Chilver’s contribution to the engineering profession was huge but he will also be remembered for his incisive mind and his enjoyable company.

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