Big guns prepare for fight over education

Institutions at loggerheads over future shape of profession

Engineering’s top brass is gearing up for a tough battle in its attempt to overhaul the education system for professional engineers.

Final proposals setting out a new system for professional status across all the engineering disciplines are with the individual institutions, with responses due in April.

Engineering Council chairman Dr Alan Rudge wants to win broad support for the proposals which would create a smaller elite of chartered engineers.

The bulk of the engineering community would be incorporated or registered engineers, who go through a three-year BEng course. The top tier, likely to represent around 20% of engineers, would go through a four-year MEng course.

The plans face problems because of the issues facing engineering’s different disciplines. The institutes for mechanical and electrical engineers support the broad ideas. But the model is more difficult to apply to chemical engineering.

`There is a very small number of incorporated engineers in our industry. The concept of the technician chemical engineer may not be well founded,’ said Dr Trevor Evans, the Institution of Chemical Engineers chief executive.

The IChemE argues that it supports the mission to raise professional standards but is doubtful about a cross-sector approach.

`Chemical engineering has an academic tradition which is closer to science than to general manufacturing. This shows the weakness of trying to write a prescriptive way forward across all of engineering,’ said Evans.

The IMechE, which will decide its formal position at a council meeting next week, supports the principles but wants agreement from all the institutions.

`There will be some significant implications for the institutions and for universities but we have to accept that it is the right thing to do to raise standards,’ said the IMechE director of qualifications Maurice Harthill.

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