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Question of support


Three letters in the last issue (NCE 24 March), raise fundamental questions about what exactly professional engineers are supposed to be able to do.

Professor Allen thinks that the statement 'analysis skills need no longer be taught- because complex analysis can be done by pressing a button' is 'right up to a point'.

But the essential skill of a modern engineer is to be able to make numerical predictions of the performance of a proposed engineering system; these are based on accepted mathematical idealisations.

Computers can be programmed make these predictions so, with their great ability to crunch numbers, large mathematical models can be used. However they cannot be responsible for engineering analysis to be carried out by people using software which is based on theory they do not understand.

As Professor Kumar notes, the 'core' knowledge - concepts and theories which provide the understanding of what engineering software does - is ideally learnt at university. As he rightly points out, this grounding in fundamental engineering concepts should take precedence in the curriculum.

So it is hard to accept that geography graduates 'who are applying their geography degrees to practical civil engineering' as Margaret Ridgway puts, should become members of the Institution.

While it is obvious that engineers must be practical, it is their theoretical knowledge that sets them apart.

Malcolm Millais (M), malcolm. millais@clix. pt

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