STEERING THE CHARTERED COURSE

Two of the big four engineering institutions have decided that most or all of their members will continue to have chartered status, whatever the Engineering Council’s new rules on Standards and Routes to Registration (Sartor) say. The Institutions of Civil and Chemical Engineers are devising interpretations of Sartor to reconcile their objectives with those of […]

Two of the big four engineering institutions have decided that most or all of their members will continue to have chartered status, whatever the Engineering Council’s new rules on Standards and Routes to Registration (Sartor) say.

The Institutions of Civil and Chemical Engineers are devising interpretations of Sartor to reconcile their objectives with those of the council. In addition, the civils propose to turn `Fellow’ into a new `superchartered’ grade. Sartor was expected to make incorporated engineer the main grade of membership.

The Engineering Council voted through the final version of its new rules on Sartor on 28 May, although the Institution of Civil Engineers had not endorsed the proposals. The council claimed the endorsement of the other three of the four main institutions.

The proposals will not be officially published until after Sir Ron Dearing’s report on further and higher education, but the council has let it be known that the proposals remained substantially the same as circulated earlier this year.

Some senior institution figures question the wisdom of trying to lay down rules across the whole profession rather than leaving the main institutions to set their standards, with the council in a policing role.

Sartor proposes that in future, three-year BEng degree courses will be open to students with the equivalent of three C grades at A-level, leading to incorporated status. Only students with at least three Bs would be accepted on four-year MEng courses leading to chartered status.

Dr Trevor Evans, Institution of Chemical Engineers chief executive, says that the institution is broadly supportive of the EngC’s aim of raising standards. But he adds the institution has reservations on one issue: `There is no case for changing the proportion of incorporated engineers to chartered engineers.’

The IChemE has no incorporated grade. `We will continue to qualify as a CEng profession,’ he says. Chemical engineering `does not lend itself to the IEng formation’.

This reflects the global environment of the industry. `UK engineers will have to stand scrutiny with their counterparts from outside the UK.’

The other bastion of dissent is the ICE, whose ruling council explicitly voted in April not to endorse Sartor; it will not debate the matter again until September. Meanwhile, it seems to have found a way to reconcile the objectives of Sartor with the alternative `Guthrie proposals’.

Peter Guthrie, vice-president for education, training and membership of the ICE, had made the alternative proposal of a mainstream chartered and elite `superchartered’ status, in preference to the bulk of the profession in future being incorporated.

Now a third way has been found. `Sartor does not say that incorporated engineer should be the main grade. It is an implication one could draw based on the requirements for A-level points for the MEng course,’ says Guthrie. But, he adds, Sartor provides for an alternative route to chartered status via a BEng and a `matching section’ of further postgraduate study and experience.

`It will be a question of how each institution interprets the requirements for CEng,’ says Guthrie. `Institutions can start with Sartor as a base, but they can exceed its requirements. The ICE agreed at its last council meeting that CEng could remain the main grade of membership, without conflicting with the Sartor proposals.’

The ICE is set to go even further: it has agreed in principle to transform the grade of Fellow into the superchartered elite.

This could be done without changing its rules or the ICE charter, says Guthrie. It would need a change of custom and practice to make the award of the Fellow designation of direct relevance to a candidate’s experience rather than mainly on the basis of age as at present. `You could create a premium grade FICE to recognise high-flyers in the industry at an early stage in their career.’ The ICE’s council has agreed that this is `achievable and desirable’.

But Guthrie also warns that the Dearing report, due next month, may add to the confusion. `Not just Dearing but how the Government interprets it could have a profound effect on the number and length of engineering courses. It could make Sartor unenforceable,’ he says.

Jack Levy, Engineering Council director for engineers’ regulation, admits `it is conceivable Dearing could mean changes’. But he hopes for `a good deal of agreement’ on the basis that Dearing has spoken `in favour of better links between further and higher education. Sartor rests on those links.’

A senior member of another institution endorses Guthrie’s view. `The fact that the Engineering Council has achieved some degree of coherence on Sartor could all be bypassed. Dearing is what matters.’