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Too many Institutions?

Doctors are regulated by the General Medical Council, dentists by the General Dental Council, pharmacists by the General Pharmaceutical Council and barristers by the Bar Standards Board.

There are around 11 Royal Colleges that review a doctor’s ability to practice.  Although some dentists specialisein such a way that they have to join a medical college, their ability to practice as a dentist appears to be directly regulated by the British Dental Council.

Pharmacists become members of the Royal PharmaceuticalSociety, which only recently passed regulatory authority to a new body called the General Pharmaceutical Council. Although a pharmacist might work directly for a drugs company, in a hospital or in a community pharmacy they are all in the same society.  The Bar Standards Board appears similar to the General Dental Council in that they oversee barristers almost directly.

My observation is that most of these professions appear to have a simpler structure for professional recognition than engineering does. The most complex seems to be doctors; their membership is split among 11 royal colleges. In contrast we are split between 36 institutions, including diverse bodies such as The Welding Institute, The Institute of Acoustics, The Institution of Lighting Professionals and the Institute of Water. 

It seems apparent that 11 groups of doctors and one voice for most of the other professions provide a more coherent voice than our multitude of voices speaking for engineering.

Apparently there used to be more than 50 institutions, so we have consolidated somewhat.  It seems apparent though, that 11 groups of doctors and one voice for most of the other professions, provide a more coherent voice than our multitude of voices speaking for engineering. The Engineering Council is meant to be our single ‘voice’ but in my opinion it fails to achieve that aspect of its remit. 

The largest institution, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), has a membership of around 150,000, followed by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers with around 100,000 members and then the Institution of Civil Engineers with around 80,000 members. That is a total of 330,000 engineers. I’ve seen one estimate that suggests that these three biggest institutions account for around 80% of engineering institution membership, if so that would mean that there are around 410,000 members of institutions. The Engineering Council, however, states that it has around 235,000 registrants. 

Although some of the institutions’ numbers will be students and others interested ‘lay’ people, it does seem like around 175,000 people are missing off the Engineering Council register somehow. Either they refuse to pay the additional fees or they just don’t see much point in gaining professional recognition. 

Something else I observed is that equivalent organizations to the Engineering Council provide statistics for their respective professions.  The Engineering Council doesn’t seem to do this but Engineering UK does.  As they also lead the Big Bang event, which is doing a good job of raising the profile of engineering, it seems to me that they are doing a lot of what the Engineering Council should be doing. Maybe we should all stop paying the Engineering Council and send the money to Engineering UK instead!

Readers' comments (11)

  • Very considerate of our Secret Blogger to make his comments on one of my 'prime' birthdays: [I have noted throughout my life, that prime years seem to be special]
    Whilst I may not be in my prime physically, I hope that my mental capacities are still right up there with the best!

    The one group which for some reason SB forgets to mention is solicitors. The junior lawyers, who have called their 'trades union' the Law Society -presumably to give it some legitimacy.

    Interestingly, this group swears no oath on appointment (unlike most others in the legal pile) but are apparently 'officers of the supreme court' by some intellectual slight-of-hand or procedural trick.

    Call it what you will, but an oath, affirmation, confirmation of one's professional status and responsibilities (and separation from simple commerce, money-making) is surely essential for all who are paid by society for brain, not brawn. Indeed many who are paid for brawn can still aspire to be professional.

    It is to establish the extent of the weaknesses in solicitors' (and other shams) professional misconduct that my 40 years of academic research has been directed. I believe its publication -in one of my prime years- will make several steps towards placing our earned status as Professional Engineers above those claimed by lesser persons and characters.

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  • As an "applied physicist" with degrees in Physics and Electronic Engineering I have never felt at home in either of the natural "institutions", a lot of Physical Scientists and Engineers are very similar, something covering the lot would be preferable.

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  • For electronics engineers the industry is so international there is little benefit in UK level institutions at all. UK registration is irrelevant to employers who do most of their hiring in India or the US. The logical thing would be to forget about the UK institutions and just join IEEE.

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  • After over 30 years of membership I have dropped out of both Engineering Council and the IET.

    My reasons for leaving the IET are three-fold. The first is my disagreement with their decision to spend millions on the IET's London offices. This is not for necessary maintenance but just to feather the nests of a select few. I realise that this might sound parochial, but frankly I would have preferred the money to have been spent on apprenticeships.

    The second reason is the current cost of membership, which I think has risen to extortionate levels for any benefits that members may receive.

    My final reason is the rampant bureaucracy within all of these institutions, especially the IET. For example, following on from my decision to leave the IET they sent me a letter saying that if I did not renew membership within 3 years, and wanted to re-join after this time, I would have to fill out all the membership forms again and undergo a personal interview - really after 30+ years of membership?

    Another problem with the IET is that registration with the Engineering Council is a prerequisite of membership. Why?
    I have never received any information as to exactly what my E.C. fees have been spent on, and at no time have I ever been convinced of their efficacy.

    Personally I cannot see the need for the Engineering Council and think engineering would not suffer for its absence.

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  • When the Prods merged with the Mechs back in the late 60's it meant that it had been a waste of considerable effort to qualify as a Mech. If someone failed the Mech course he (no she in those days) could just switch over to the Prod course: pass out with a Prod ordinary degree and subsequently qualify for IMechE. As a previous commentator observes the Institution officials spend a lot of subscription funds on jetting off around the world to attend functions where they can sing voluminous garbage for their supper. The audiences very rarely listen. They have marched on.
    Progressive legislation means that if someone has a certificate in design awareness then that someone is more qualified than a C Eng who does not have the design awareness ticket....because the C Eng bothered to gain real experience. Scrap the lot.

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  • It is a pity that the secret engineer didn’t seek to talk to the Engineering Council prior to writing this article as we could have corrected some of the inaccuracies in this blog. Many of these are addressed clearly on our website or within our quarterly e-newsletter, Register News, which is available for anyone to subscribe to free from our homepage and is a good source of information about the activities of the Engineering Council and its partner organisations.

    The registration fee is actually already paid to EngineeringUK, who use the bulk of it to promote the value that engineering brings to society and also to promote careers in engineering through highly successful initiatives such as the ‘Big Bang’ and the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme. They also produce an annual statistical report on behalf of the profession, which undoubtedly includes the statistics sought by the Secret Engineer.

    One third of the Registration fee is then granted to the Engineering Council to license the 36 Professional Engineering Institutions so that we can ensure that a common registration standard is maintained across all engineering disciplines in order to protect the public. This includes the protection of professional titles such as Chartered Engineer, Incorporated Engineer and Engineering Technician, which will be of benefit to individual registrants.

    There will undoubtedly be a difference between the numbers of engineers that are registered and those in membership of institutions, as the Engineering Council figures do not include graduates and students, and not all institution members hold the qualifications required for registration. Those with sufficient experience can of course apply for registration through either the experiential route or the technical report route.

    If the secret engineer would like to come along to our offices, I’d be delighted to correct any other misconceptions that he may hold.

    Jon Prichard
    CEO, Engineering Council

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  • Have I not heard this before? Does anyone remember Monty Finniston? I joined the Institute of Technician Engineers many years ago because the Institute of Mech E did not want to know about us lower forms of life. They were in fact tenants of the Mech E in Birdcage Walk. They then split and found a new home and merged and grew & found a way to grant Chartered status and lo and behold they are to be tenants again in Birdcage Walk while they do their new HQ up! They should merge, only politics can be stopping it.
    To the question " Are there too many Institutions?" In Prof. John Perkins Review of Engineering. He refers to many varied Institutions not to mention bodies such as Eng. Development Trust, Eng Council, Eng professors council,Royal Academy of Eng.Womens Eng. Society, Women in Science and Engineering. I am sure there are others. How can such a diverse range of bodies present an effective and united voice on behalf of engineering?
    In the October editorial of Hydraulics and Pneumatics magazine the editor suggest we should copy the Siemens method which they have practiced for 40+ years. Why invent a new wheel when there is a proven solution in place. (Or would our Eng Inst's suggest Germany is not successful). Does the Engineering council remember the annual conference inviting the Training Director of Siemens to its annual conference some 25 years ago when the gentleman spelt out how they did it then and we are still playing catch up.

    Oliver Dunthorne (Retired I Eng)

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  • Re Jon Pritchard's comments:
    i) - good to see one of the Engineering 'establishment' making a response to a comment on these pages. More please preprepared articles are OK - but live engagement better.

    ii) "If the secret engineer would like tocome along to our offices, I’d be delighted to correct any other misconceptions that he may hold" - I hope to see the photos or videos of the visit published in The Engineer - of this (presumably) masked man.... engineering needs a super hero

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  • Of course, it could be a masked woman...

  • I would like to apply for the post of Engineering super-hero! I am prepared to do so for no salary (I am adequately pensioned!), simply for the opportunity to further our profession at the expense of others who for far too long have held the top slots. As some colleagues will know, from my many other blogs, describing my research and other efforts, I have spent 40+ years -since my return to my own country from the US- demonstrating that a well trained and experienced Engineer will run rings around any sham professional. I set out to demonstrate in several pivotal areas of 'law' -employment, defamation, commercial and patent- that the much-trumpeted abilities of our apparent betters is just so much hog-wash. I have beaten or exposed them, on their ground and under their silly-rules (designed to intimidate and increase their rewards) every time. My intention has been throughout to show just? what they can and do get up to. Ridicule, hatred and contempt are the criteria in defamation cases. I cannot bring myself to hate anyone, but certainly pity them instead. I have managed to show as ridiculous many lawyers in public. The jury who had the opportunity to see one twist and turn so much,he met himself coming backwards under my wife and my amateur cross-examination in the libel case he was silly enough to bring against us (a trap I set for him, into which he duly fell) certainly joined the Judge in showing absolute contempt for his misconduct.

    There is little point, in my view sighing and crying about how badly we are perceived in the public domain: we have to take on (as I have done) those who are our apparent betters and simply eclipse them. More to follow?

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  • Is this you, Mike?

  • no! but I congratulate those responsible.

    Mike B

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