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v4.1
Sorting out engineering
- the need for a major review
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Prof Kel Fidler CEng HonFIET FREng

Abstract. This article considers the problems associated with the recruitment of more good
quality entrants to higher education engineering programmes as part of a policy to ensure
future sustainable economic growth in the UK. It addresses the difficulties in developing
effective outreach and intervention activities in schools as well as problems in the perception
of engineering in many areas; the confusion between science and engineering; and the need
to rebrand professional engineering to stress its characteristics of creativity and innovation,
and its role in solving the problems faced by society at a global level. It reports a number of
conclusions - in particular the need for a national forum to discuss and formulate a strategy
for action rather than further discussion of the problems.


The UK needs more engineers. Everyone that has a view is saying it – from Sir James Dyson
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to Professor John Perkins in his Perkins Report
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; from the Royal Academy of Engineering
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to
EngineeringUK, Jaguar Landrover to Scottish Power, National Grid to the Local Government
Association
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. All agree that to ensure a sustainable economic future the UK needs more
engineers – anywhere up to 100% and more than we are producing at the moment –
graduates, technicians, apprentices. In this article I particularly want to talk about
engineering graduates, although many of the comments are applicable to the other
categories.
Graduate engineers from accredited engineering degree courses hold the ‘exemplifying
qualifications’ with which they may register as professional engineers (Chartered Engineer,
Incorporated Engineer) with the UK Engineering Council (which regulates the profession),
gained through their membership of a professional engineering institution (PEI). They are
characterised by their creativity, innovation, and their understanding, knowledge and skills
in design, finance, quality systems, science, mathematics, the environment, ethics,
sustainability and IT to create things – things that influence every aspect of our lives and will
resolve all the global challenges that we currently face..
Higher Education (HE) engineering programmes are available in the UK in 46 Pre’92 (‘old’)
universities, 63 Post’92 (‘new’) universities, and 73 FE Colleges. In 2012 they respectively
accepted (or enrolled) 14,867; 9,430; and 603 new engineering students through UCAS.

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Article based on a paper presented at an ‘Engineering and Big Science’ Meeting held at the RAEng, March
2014
2
Daily Telegraph, 5 September 2013
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https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/254885/bis-13-1269-
professor-john-perkins-review-of-engineering-skills.pdf
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“Jobs and Growth: the importance of engineering skills to the UK economy” RAEng, 1 October 2012
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LGA Media Release 20 June 2012
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That totals about 25,000 (of all domiciles – UK, EU and ‘other overseas’; about two thirds
are UK) most of whom will graduate and be released into the world of work. It is that
number that commentators want to see at least doubled in the near future, although clearly
we particularly want to see an increase in the number of graduate engineers that work for
UK companies. And they need to be good ones.
Here are two pie charts for 2012 application year to UCAS – for applications, and then for
acceptances in engineering. These are taken from the RAEng report ‘Skills for the Nation’
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published last summer. Remember that a prospective student may make application to five
institutions on their UCAS form, and these can be any mix of old and new universities and
colleges offering HE. You will see that there is a redistribution of students amongst the
three destination types between applications and the resulting acceptances, with a shift to
New Universities and Colleges, to which we shall return shortly.

How does Engineering compare with other subjects? Well, here are charts for the more
popular subject groups over a four year period:



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http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/Engineering_Undergraduates_in_the_UK.pdf
2012 Comparative
Applications
Pre'92
Post'92
Colleges
2012 Comparative
Acceptancies

Pre'92
Post'92
Colleges
0
50000
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2009 2010 2011 2012
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Applications
Business & Admin
Creative Arts
Social Studies
Biological Sciences
Maths & Comp
Engineering
Law
Physical Sciences
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There are a number of important points that emerge from consideration of these charts. If
we are to increase the number of applicants for engineering, then one way would be to
increase the number of overall applicants to universities, and hope that we can sway as
many of these as possible to choose engineering. Removing the cap on university places,
announced recently by the Government, is one move in this direction. However, evidence
suggests that opening the doors wider will not encourage more of the best quality students
to apply to university – the best will be applying anyway, so this is not the most productive
option. The other way is to convince more of the best students to apply for engineering,
and away from the more popular subjects – the charts show which they are – Business and
Admin studies; Creative Arts and Design; Social Studies; and Biological Sciences. Clearly this
is not something that can happen late in the applicant’s secondary education – the swing to
engineering must start long before that so that students may have the necessary
background knowledge, understanding – and qualifications. (University Engineering
Departments -and particularly those in Old Universities- tend to favour candidates with
A/Levels in Physics and Maths – requiring early guidance onto the paths to these
qualifications). And since most of those gaining Physics A/Level proceed to university, the
task is to make an engineering endpoint attractive.
There is however a far more significant point. The charts here are for all domiciles – that is,
students from the UK, the EU and ‘other overseas’. Given the present immigration policies,
it is unlikely that we will swell the ranks of engineering graduates working in the UK through
overseas student numbers. Also, our ability to sway students from the EU towards
engineering is somewhat limited as a result of outreach or intervention (despite the
programmes often being more attractive and certainly shorter than those on the continent).
It is more appropriate therefore to consider UK domiciled students.
0
10000
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60000
70000
2009 2010 2011 2012
N
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Acceptances
Business & Admin
Creative Arts
Social Studies
Biological Sciences
Maths & Comp
Engineering
Law
Physical Sciences
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Using data presented in the recent EngineeringUK 2014 report
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, the next chart shows the
number of UK student applicants into Engineering for the last ten years (scaled by a factor of
10 for comparison purposes).

This chart also shows the rises and falls in all UK applicants to UCAS (for all subjects) over
the same period - a period which has been influenced by recession, fee increases, and
demographic decline of the university applicant age cohort. The applicants to engineering
over this ten year period reflect the trends in all applicants – the relationship is scalable and
more or less proportional. This is further shown by the green curve which shows the
percentage of all applicants that are for engineering – pretty much constant at around 3.5%
+/- over the period. This is a sobering – indeed a staggering result. It means that over this
recent ten year period, all the initiatives to get proportionately more young people onto
engineering higher education courses (initiatives which have largely centred on outreach
activities for schools and schoolchildren) have so far been unsuccessful – at best, but
unlikely, they may have countered a decline that might otherwise have occurred. In short, it
appears most likely that any increase in the number of students applying for engineering
degree courses has been as a result of more young people applying for degree courses in
general and not because of any of the many interventions, well-intentioned as they may be.
And with A/Levels numbers in the Sciences and Mathematics increasing in recent times, this
disappointment is further emphasised.
The detail of the percentage curve is shown here:

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http://www.engineeringuk.com/Research/Engineering_UK_Report_2014/
0
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0
100000
200000
300000
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700000
UK Engineering Applicants
UK Eng Apps*10
UK All Apps
%
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Looking for the most optimistic interpretation of this chart, we note there has been a period
of increase from 2005/6 through to 2011/12 of ~0.55% - or ~0.1% per year. If this trend is
sustained, a doubling of engineering graduates, which could require a participation rate in
engineering of another 3.75%, will take well over 30 years!
It is perhaps not surprising that initiatives aimed at young people turn out to be limited in
their effectiveness. Within a seemingly endless list of initiatives including for example The
Engineering Development Trust
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, The Elite Engineering Programme (EEP)
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, Tomorrow’s
Engineers
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(comprising for example Young Engineers, and The Smallpiece Trust,) lies the
Daddy of them all – The annual “Big Bang: Young Scientists and Engineers Fair”
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which
recorded a footfall in 2014 of about 75,000 young people and their parents and teachers.
Fewer than 75,000 young people, that is, of the 4,000,000 in secondary education in
England alone. The numbers reached are thus rather small in the overall scheme of things,
and there is little to no evidence that those reached are influenced to change their career
direction. This is a point to which I shall return later.
Meanwhile, it is of interest to consider how ‘good’ our current undergraduate students are
– as reflected by their qualifications on entry. UCAS publishes the tariffs of university
entrants, and in the ‘Skills for the Nation’ report, the authors drilled down into these for
engineering. Recall that with A/Levels, an A* provides 140 tariff points, with 120 points for
an A, 100 points for a B and so on. ‘Technical’ qualifications such as HND and indeed all
other appropriate qualifications have tariff points associated with them, allowing a
comparative study.
The next chart shows a histogram for engineering which plots the average student tariff
point score for all the programmes provided by UK universities and colleges. It is for 2012

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http://www.etrust.org.uk/
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http://www.eep-schools.org.uk/
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http://www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/
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https://www.thebigbangfair.co.uk/
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3.1
3.2
3.3
3.4
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3.8
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entry, but there is little difference in the histograms for at least the three previous years.


This is a staggering chart, showing the hugely wide variation in the quality of engineering HE
students – again UK domiciles. Our best programmes can boast students with possibly four
A* at A/Level, whilst at the other end of the scale, some of our institutions are admitting
students with barely any qualifications at all. It will be noted that there is a hint of a double
peak in this chart, and the next one unmasks the detail of this:


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Tariff Points
Tariff Point distribution
All Engineering Programmes 2012
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Tariff Points
Tariff Point distribution
All Engineering Programmes 2012
Colleges
Post'92
Pre'92
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It can be judged that we effectively have two fairly distinct distributions superimposed on
each other – one for pre’92 institutions with a mean of ~450 tariff points, the other for
post’92 institutions with a mean of ~300 points, and a number of college programmes which
are clearly competitive with our New Universities. Thus the average tariff score for Old
University programmes is about 150 points (or 50%) higher than those for New Universities
and Colleges.
Further analysis of the UCAS data in ‘Skills for the Nation’ suggests that Old Universities are
effectively ‘full up’ (at current resource levels) with relatively high quality students. New
Universities on the other hand (and noting the dangers of generalisation) attract less able
students, and are more reliant on clearing. (Hence the shift we saw in the pie-chart
distribution of students from application to acceptance). Whilst some of these clearing
candidates may have become available because they didn’t achieve appropriate
qualifications for Old University engineering courses, experience suggests that there are
others who enter engineering having failed to meet entry requirements for other subject
programmes, and hence do not have the commitment to engineering for which one might
hope. Either way, HESA statistics generally indicate that there is a correlation between low
entry qualifications and non-continuation beyond the first year of HE programmes which is
particularly marked for engineering. We therefore expect to see more New University and
College students dropping out of engineering programmes than in Old Universities.
For those who believe that the binary line still exists, 22 years after Polytechnics became
Universities, these observations will only serve to reinforce their prejudices. However, there
is a more positive standpoint here. Anyone who has been involved with engineering degree
accreditation for the Professional Engineering Institutions (PEIs) will have observed that
many New University engineering departments have excellent facilities and resources, and
excellent academic staff and student support. Bright young PhD-qualified academic staff
have very much replaced the technical college staff of yesteryear. In short, our New
Universities have the capacity and prowess for good quality student entrants. All we need is
to convince more young people to take engineering to degree level, and to enjoy the
excellent facilities offered by both Old and New Universities. We need that double shift in
culture – to overcome the prejudice which exists towards New Universities in our society,
and to make better use of the capacity for excellent top-class engineering education in
those universities to increase the number of high quality graduates.
I say that we need to convince more young people to take engineering to degree level. My
own experiences (in particular as a recent ‘Speakers for Schools’
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initiative lecturer)
confirms the earlier point that despite the countless initiatives – the Big Bang Fair,
Tomorrow’s Engineers and so on, many young people and their teachers remain largely
ignorant about the nature of engineering. Indeed I would generalise that ignorance to
parents, politicians, the media - indeed society in general. This is an observation made by

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http://www.speakers4schools.org/
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many commentators. Thus, whilst the ubiquity of engineering influence in modern life is
undeniable, perversely, as the UK House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and
Skills Committee chaired by Lord Willis said in its 2009 report ‘The spirit of Engineering:
turning ideas into reality’
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:
“the extent and nature of engineers’ and engineering’s contribution go largely
unrecognised, with people failing to make the connection between the technology they enjoy
and the role of engineering”.

Very few young people study engineering at school (just a couple of hundred take Edexcel’s
A/L in Engineering) yet somehow we expect students and their parents (who are influential
in their choice of degree programme) to know what engineering is about when it comes to
making a choice in Higher Education. Of course, schools do not expose students to
Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary studies which nevertheless all attract high quality HE
applicants - but here, their personal experience comes to the fore. Students go to see their
doctor, their dentist, take their pets to the vet. But what is their personal experience of
engineering?

The answer is, of course, summarised in the following montage:


In short, the public think that engineers mend washing machines, service cars, and so on –
they ‘fix things’ - because that is what the public are exposed to, and what the media and
others tell them. A recent 2014 Royal Navy TV Advert
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suggested that if you can fix a
skateboard, you can fix a bike, and if you can fix a bike you can fix a car, and if you can fix a

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http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmdius/50/50i.pdf
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http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/Careers/Role-finder/Engineering
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car you can learn to fix a helicopter, a seaboat, a naval gun, a radar system, a destroyer.
“And when you can fix all that, you will be a Royal Navy Engineer”. In other words (and a
popular belief), engineers ‘fix things’. Here are some further examples of misinformation
about engineers:

…one of the many white vans
Innocent drinks TV advert
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Daily Mirror: “Travel chaos: Engineers clear fallen trees
from a railway line in West London”
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Notice in the Gent’s toilet in Sainsbury’s, York

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http://www.innocentdrinks.co.uk/bored/adverts/item/the-innocent-chain-of-good-tastes-good-does-good
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http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/uk-weather-rail-operators-will-2651457
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And how about these media gems:
BBC News: “Police arrested a man for spray painting a Royal Mail Box gold in Lymington…
Royal Mail Spokesman Heulyn Gwyd Davies said “It is illegal to tamper with any of our post
boxes and we are liaising with our engineers to ensure it is repainted as soon as possible”
‘How it Works’ Magazine: “Engineers today are the wizards, alchemists and even gods of
yesteryear, achieving miracles that once would have been deemed impossible. Thanks to
their judicious study of mathematics, geometry, algebra and material sciences, today’s top
engineers can defy gravity, travel across the Earth in mere hours and create computational
systems to explore reality at a quantum scale. And all this is just for starters…”

The media’s ignorance about engineering provides a significant disincentive to engaging
with the subject. Who would want to study engineering or advise their children to study
engineering at university against this background? There is evidence to suggest that the
only positive answer lies with the children of parents who are themselves professional
engineers, and know better.
National Grid produced a report in the recent past (‘Engineering Our Future: Inspiring and
attracting tomorrow’s engineers
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’) which reinforces these comments. The report showed
that:
 Engineering is seen as a job rather than a profession. The work has an image of being
menial, dirty and about fixing things. Because of this association with blue collar
work, it is seen as a dying industry.
 It is almost an invisible industry and for many young people is simply not on their
radar as a career option. For example, 6 out of 10 young people cannot name a
recent engineering achievement
 This leads to low appreciation of what engineers do for society. Both parents and
young people placed engineering below medicine, teaching and policing in its
contribution to modern life.
 There is snobbery among some parents who think their children could do better than
choose engineering.
 And unhelpful gender stereotypes mean that for every ten boys who would consider
engineering as a career, there is only one girl.
This problem with engineering has been acknowledged for many years. (Interestingly, the
image problem portrayed by engineering is almost exactly the opposite to that of Physics
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).
Many of the people deemed to be engineers by the media are in reality ‘engineering
workers’ or maybe mechanics or at best technicians. Engineers are commonly believed to

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http://www.nationalgrid.com/NR/rdonlyres/00EF136D-6ECF-435C-A8D9-
719A4568EE27/36966/enginering_our_future.pdf
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Private conversation with Prof Peter Main, Director, Education and Science, Institute of Physics
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have qualifications, if at all, gained through a ‘vocational’ (rather than ‘academic’) route that
requires little mathematical knowledge, and is more akin to hairdressing and catering than
the vocations (rarely identified as such) of medicine, dentistry and veterinary studies with
which professional engineering aligns.
This notion of ‘professional engineer’ describes the sort of engineering status that is catered
for by undergraduate engineering programmes – most engineering undergraduates attend
courses accredited by a PEI and as previously mentioned thus satisfy the educational base
requirement for registration with the Engineering Council as a Chartered Engineer or an
Incorporated Engineer. Unfortunately these are descriptors that further confuse people.
How many (including even those that hold the qualification!) really understand what the
terms ‘Chartered’ or ‘Incorporated’ actually means? Why do we insist in using such esoteric
terms in the UK when others elsewhere in the world (United States, New Zealand, etc) use
the term ‘Professional Engineer’ which I would suggest might have rather more meaning to
the lay public? The answer is quite simple. There exists in the UK a private company called
the ‘Society of Professional Engineers’
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which claims the exclusive legal right to provide its
subscribers with the descriptor ‘Professional Engineer’ (with capitals) and the postnominal
PEng.
There is further confusion about the nature of engineering and the engineer that is
unhelpful to the public. That is the confusion surrounding Engineering and its relationship
with Science.
Here is an example:
Newcastle Science City
booklet
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extract. [The implication here is that Chemical Engineering is Science – a point
explored below. Further confusion is perpetrated by the statement “My job, like most

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http://www.professionalengineers-uk.org/
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http://issuu.com/distinctivepublishing/docs/nsc2012?e=1159616/2890595
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engineers, was problem-solving – figuring out what was wrong and fixing it”, which entirely
misses the true activities of professional engineers]
A few years ago I attended a prestigious lecture at the Royal Society in London by Lord May
of Oxford. Lord May is a past President of The Royal Society, and before that was Chief
Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the UK Office of Science and
Technology. He is Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences, an Overseas
Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal
Academy of Engineering and several other Academies and Learned Societies in the UK, USA
and Australia. He is a man of high standing, and people take notice of him; yet during his
lecture on ‘Science Advice and Policy Making’ he said “I use the word Science in the
accepted sense – to include Science, Social Science, Engineering and Medicine”. He justified
his assertion by referring to the four Victorian statues of women on Holborn Viaduct in
London that depict Commerce, Agriculture, Fine Arts and Science. The science statue is
holding a Watt’s Governor – apparently clear evidence that engineering is science! No, Lord
May!
I am not alone in believing strongly that Engineering is not Science, or (as is often suggested)
a subset of Science, although the converse might be argued by some. Whilst Science is
about understanding the world – producing and evaluating models of observed behaviour
which are then used to predict other behaviours (the ‘Scientific Method’), Engineering is
about creating things, and thus subject to a quite different discipline, embracing design,
creativity, and innovation. Engineers will make use of Science where appropriate and
advantageous (for example using the findings of semiconductor physicists in the
manufacture of integrated circuits), but not always (there was, for example, no science of
thermodynamics before the first steam engines were built)! No one would dream of
suggesting that Engineering is a branch of Mathematics, even though the mathematics used
in the signal processing to be found in mobile phone communication systems, or the matrix
transformations used in computer game images, is of the highest complexity. No, Science
and Mathematics are enabling, facilitating disciplines used by Engineers – to create things.
And that is why it is important that we encourage more young people to study Science and
Mathematics at School as enabling subjects for tomorrow’s engineers. No matter what
interventions are made in schools to encourage interest in engineering, we must remember
that the number will be capped by the number studying maths (required for so many
disciplines from economics to engineering to the sciences and mathematics itself). Some
80,000 students take A/Level Mathematics in the UK at the present time. For those
universities that specify A/Level Maths and Physics for entry, this number is further reduced
to about 30,000.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is one of the few projects in which its construction and use
has been heralded as both ‘a triumph of science’ as well as ‘a triumph of engineering’. So
often, engineering achievements are attributed by the media and others to science (‘the
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scientists that design nuclear power stations’) that further renders the public unaware of
engineering achievements or activities (except in installation, repair and maintenance – in
other words, ‘fixing things’).
For this reason I suggest that one of the greatest disservices done to engineering in the UK
has been the adoption of the acronym STEM – dreary in its ubiquity. To many, STEM –
Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths - is but shorthand for Science, the T, E and M
believed to be other manifestations of the over-arching subject of Science.
There are, of course, many who work at the interface between Science and Engineering –
the semiconductor devices area is one example of that. In the public eye, however, if there
is any acknowledgement of the areas of Science and Engineering, it appears to be Science
that gets the kudos, and Engineering the oily rag.
The 2014 Big Bang: Young Scientists and Engineers Fair was opened by Liz Truss
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,
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare. The Fair, which claims
to be “…the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths for young
people in the UK”
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is organised by an offshoot company of EngineeringUK, which itself
exists to promote “…the vital contribution of engineers, engineering and technology”
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.
EngineeringUK is funded mainly from the registration fees of the ~230,000 professional
engineers and engineering technicians registered with its sister body, the Engineering
Council. The Fair is without doubt an engineering-led enterprise. It is so easy to send
unintended messages about the importance of engineering, however. In her speech, Liz
Truss mentioned ‘science’ six times, ‘maths’ four times, ‘technology’ or ‘tech’ twice, and
‘engineering’ – just once!
As if the differentiation between Science and Engineering isn’t confusing enough to young
people, teachers, parents, the media – and politicians, we have confused matters more with
the use of the word Technology. What is the Technology that is referred to so often? Is
Technology any more than the product of Engineering? What is special about Technology
that enables the UK to have a Technology Strategy Board, a Science and Technology
Facilities Council, an Institution of Engineering and Technology, and a Council for Science
and Technology? Unhelpfully, even the websites of these bodies throw no light on such
questions. We need to clarify ‘Technology’. Even the word ‘engineering’ has come in for
criticism amongst some commentators, for example Sarah Sillars
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, CEO of Semta, who has
suggested that the very word ‘engineering’ serves as a disincentive to engage with the
subject, and that emphasis should be put on ‘Design’, ‘Create’, and ‘Make’. Unless we
somehow rebrand engineering and stress its positive aspects of creativity, design and
innovation; its omni-presence and all-pervading influence on all aspects of our lives and its

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https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/elizabeth-truss-opens-the-big-bang-fair
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http://www.engineeringuk.com/The_Big_Bang/
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http://www.engineeringuk.com/
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http://epc.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Sarah-Sillars.pdf
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distinct activities that separate it from science, we will continue to run the risk of having its
achievements attributed elsewhere, and of a general public who believe that it is a
‘vocational’ subject indeed akin to those of hairdressing and home economics rather than a
vocation like medicine, dentistry and veterinary studies.
Rebranding, of course, can be achieved in many ways. It could simply mean changing the
name – indeed perhaps, say, replacing the e-word with Technologist! It is certainly unlikely
that people would think of calling a Technologist if their washing machine broke down! The
omni-presence and all-pervading aspects of engineering might be stressed by product
branding – in the same way that many Personal Computers bear a label indicating ‘Intel
inside’ ™ , products could similarly announce themselves as ‘Created by Engineers’. There
are a huge range of possibilities to be considered.
It is interesting that in the US they share all the frustrations that we do in promoting
Engineering and trying to educate the public. In 2008 their National Academy of
Engineering (NAE) initiated a project entitled ‘Changing the Conversation’ in an attempt to
remedy things. Much work has been done on ‘Messages’ and ‘Tag Lines’- their publication
of ‘Changing the Conversation’ in 2008, and the associated ‘Messaging for Engineering’ in
2013 essentially described a rebranding strategy to enhance the public understanding of
engineering
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. There appears to be no similar initiative in the UK, although a recent report
commissioned by the ERA Foundation
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(‘Changing Perceptions: Opening people’s eyes to
engineering’) supports the recommendations. The NAE books make for very interesting
reading. In particular their research revealed reluctance in young people to engage in
Engineering because of its emphasised relationship with Science and Mathematics! Thus,
messages that were considered worthwhile:
 Engineers make a world of difference
 Engineers are creative problem solvers
 Engineers help shape the future
 Engineering is essential to our health, happiness and safety
are judged more effective than
‘Engineers connect science to the real world’. As previously mentioned, it is worrying
therefore that even including the ‘E’ in ‘STEM’ may be having just the wrong effect in the
branding of engineering.
So, what are my conclusions about attracting and increasing the number of good applicants
into engineering?

25
http://www.engineeringmessages.org/
26
http://www.erafoundation.org/changing-perceptions-opening-peoples-eyes-to-engineering/
15

 There is no evidence at the moment that the multitude of initiatives, mostly directed
at schoolchildren, is having any significant effect on the recruitment of engineering
undergraduates.
 That some of the huge resources expended on promotion of engineering in schools
should be redirected towards the public understanding of engineering, with
emphasis on the media and those in Whitehall and Westminster, so providing a
beneficial ‘multiplier effect’ by reaching a wider audience.
 A rebranding of engineering is required to emphasise its creativity, innovation and
societal benefits, and away from its science and mathematics connections.
 Steps should be taken to exploit the capacity for high quality engineering education
in our New Universities.
 The profession needs to agree on how it describes the discipline and avoid
perpetuating misunderstandings about what engineers do.

These bullet points represent major areas for consideration and review, areas which in
some cases will take time to have effect as they demand significant culture changes.
However, the status quo will remain the status quo unless action is taken. I believe that a
major national conference should be convened to which the major stakeholders –
government, media, professional engineering institutions, the Engineering Council,
EngineeringUK, EEF, CBI, the Engineering Professors’ Council, academia, and the industry
and so on are invited – not just to debate what needs to be done, but how it will be done.
The time has come for the endless reports on the problems with engineering to be noted,
and action now needs to be taken. We need a strategic, coordinated approach with
measurable objectives, and we need a representative body with ‘can do’ members to take
the lead. And we need resources, financial and human. That’s all.
In the material above, I have been particularly concerned with the encouragement of UK
students to become engineering undergraduates. That there are problems with engineering
HE in the UK is perhaps underlined in an article in Times Higher Education earlier this year
27
.
In this article, David Matthews looked at the subject discipline ‘winners and losers’ in the
post 1996-97 boom in HE enrolment, by considering HESA statistics that track the total
number of home and overseas, full-time and part-time, postgraduate and undergraduate HE
students in the 16 years to 2011-12. During this period, overall student numbers increased
by 42.2% and many subjects exceeded this growth. The article reports: ‘As for engineering
and technology … student numbers have grown by an underwhelming 21 per cent … . Even
more worrying for those who fear for the UK’s engineering and technology base, of the
28,000 students this subject area has gained since 1996-97, 21,000 have been from
overseas’.

27
‘Subject to popular demand’, Times Higher Education, 16 January 2014.
16

If we don’t anything now, nothing will change and we will not attain the overall objective –
the UK needs more quality engineers.
The author is grateful to the many people who helped him in the preparation of this article –
in particular Prof Peter Goodhew (University of Liverpool), Prof Phil Mars (University of
Durham), Andrew Ramsay (ex-CEO, Engineering Council), Prof David Howard (University of
York), and Prof Peter Main (Institute of Physics).
Comments on the article? Please send to: sortingoutengineering@gmail.com
Prof Kel Fidler is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a member of its Standing Committee on Education and
Training. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and was an IET representative on the
Engineering Council from 2002 to 2011. As Chairman of its Registration Standards Committee 2002-5 he led the group that
developed the UK-SPEC Standard for Professional Engineering Competence, and also the Standards for AHEP – the
Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes in Engineering, now adopted as the QAA Benchmark for Engineering. He
was elected Chairman of the Engineering Council for two terms from 2005-2011.
As a career engineering academic, Kel was Head of Engineering Departments in three universities (Essex, the OU and York),
and Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at York. He was Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria
University for 2001-2008.
Most recently, he has been Chair of the QAA Subject Benchmark Statement for Engineering Review Group, advisor to the
Food and Drink Federation on the establishment of a Food Engineering Degree, a member of the IET Fellows Standing Panel,
and Founding Chair of the University of Huddersfield Industrial Advisory Panel. He is a Non-executive Director of RDI Ltd, a
for-profit private distance-learning Higher Education Institution, recently awarded Taught Degree Awarding Powers.