Wise view

I am surprised that you have any doubts about the view of Chris Wise that engineers are primarily artists rather than scientists.


I am surprised that you have any doubts about the view of Chris Wise that engineers are primarily artists rather than scientists (Interview, January 14).

Your pages are always full of current examples of engineering innovations, such as the Da Vinci robotic surgery system which may use science as an aid to solving problems but which, initially, depend on a creative vision of what might be possible.

It is in this way that the creative engineer thinks and works as an artist — creating visions of objects which do not yet exist rather than using science to analyse how something works (or does not).

This creative vision, possessed by real engineers, is also a major factor in inspiring and recruiting our future engineers. We are all motivated by successful achievement. Young people who are inspired to overcome problems and design and create useful things can become highly motivated towards engineering. Being good at science does not have this inherent effect.

Activities in schools which come under the general heading of ‘Design and Technology’ provide scope for this motivation. It might even be said that engineers are practically useless without design and technology.

But — and here is the crunch — the engineering profession as a whole does not give due credit to ability in design and technology when it is making public what it wants from its recruits.

What it says it wants is ability in science and in mathematics. These should be seen as necessary but not sufficient. The profession gets the recruits it deserves.

What to do about the shortage of engineers has been a recurring question over the last half century. Recommendations have been made by one government committee after another, and they all advocate presenting engineering as a creative activity, as well as the application of science.

Despite all these recommendations for changes in attitude there has been little systemic change in the processes of recruitment and selection of entrants to engineering in higher education. With notable exceptions, lecturers in engineering seek to recruit more lecturers in engineering.

This is a human engineering problem on a mammoth scale — a real challenge to Chris Wise and the RDI.

I am working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to bring the excitement of creative engineering to students in schools, and one of my weapons comes from the pages of The Engineer.

It is up to the engineering profession to give evidence of creative ability the status and currency it deserves.

Prof Geoffrey Harrison

Durham