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Students ask ICE to force unis to run low tech module

ICE News

ENGINEERING GRADUATES and students have urged the ICE to enforce low tech engineering as a core module on UK civil engineering courses.

They believe that understanding how basic technology works will produce engineers more able to understand appropriate solutions to infrastructure needs in developing countries.

The students were speaking at the third Engineers without Frontiers (EwF) meeting at the ICE in October, where the presidential commission debated how engineers could help reduce world poverty. EwF wants to target next year's G8 summit with the engineering community's views on poverty reduction.

Andrew Lamb, third year electrical engineering student at Cambridge University said: 'I want to see practical applications [in our degree courses].

We learn about engineering and maths, but do not do enough on soft engineering issues.'

Lamb is also funding director for student organisation Engineers Without Borders (EWB) which teaches students how engineering can help development in the third world. EWB is funded by engineering companies and has links with nearly 40 universities around the world. The UK branch encompasses 11 universities in the UK and is based at Cambridge University.

Lamb also wants universities to organise student placements in developing countries to work on projects which use intermediate technology.

This is technology where local materials and traditional design are used in engineering projects, removing the need for complex maintenance and repair.

'The difference with studying sustainable development and actually doing it is that doing it makes a difference to a person's life, ' said Lamb.

EWB projects director Ruvan Mendis added, 'We want to do development projects in our fourth year using appropriate technology, not high tech'.

EWB organises work experience in developing countries ranging from road building to repairing mud huts or designing cashew nut crushing machines.

It wants the ICE to push for more intermediate technology in degree courses.

'The institution assesses the parameters and grounds for a good engineering education, so it can do lots, ' said Lamb.

Mendis added that EWB pays for a distance learning course in engineering and development to be translated from Spanish to give tutors an idea of what is required.

'We're even telling tutors

He also believes that having sustainable development and intermediate technology modules at university would add interest to existing courses.

As more UK companies find work in developing countries, Mendis believes it is increasingly important to understand the practical needs of the third world.

The view was backed by ICE water board chair Graham Setterfield. He said that the requirements of developing countries were a long way from what was covered in universities.

'One of the problems with civil engineering is the breadth of the subject and the depth you need to know, ' he said.

'I think it's important that students understand what current technology is about in the Western world, but in parallel with the standards in Africa.'

'It's about understanding what's appropriate and taking away the Western style thinking that our solution is better than theirs, ' he added.

Setterfield spent a week in Africa with Partners for Water & Sanitation, a government initiative set up in 2001 to help improve water supply in developing countries.

'I learned that what changed a person's life was having water of a slightly better standard a few yards away, instead of having to walk 10 miles for appalling water.'

Bobby Lambert, chief executive of disaster relief charity RedR, also attended the meeting and warned that while engineering solutions had to be achievable, they should not compromise the quality of the product.

He said, 'We want better standards, not necessarily first rate - but not second rate quality just because the project is in a poor country'.

However, Cambridge University professor of engineering and sustainable development Peter Guthrie took the concept a stage further.

'We need to say that we're prepared to design for failure.

If it's [an engineering scheme] super-procured and designed, but you can't afford to build it, is that right?' asked Guthrie.

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