Special Report on Institution of Civil Engineers

‘If they are disapproving, you’re dead.’ So said a London University professor of civil engineering, an academic who usually, like other university people, is most anxious to protect his autonomy.

But the ‘they’ in that sentence includes his academic peers; they include practical engineers, too, who ultimately as employers, will test the worth of his graduates. These are the members of the Institution’s committee of ‘moderators’. They are the team sent out to check whether universities offering civil engineering degrees – which allow young engineers exemption from the early stages of the institution’s own qualifying process – meet the required standards.

Visits are made on a five yearly cycle and they are rigorous. ‘Everything is laid out’, the professor reported, ‘the research record, equipment, and if they are dissatisfied they say so; and call on the vice-chancellor after they have been to see you.’

Such visitations are at the heart of the Institution’s role as an examining body. Its certification formally says an engineer is qualified to practise. Anyone can set up a shingle and call himself or herself a civil engineer; such people can even tender for bridge work and dig trenches. But the magic word is ‘chartered’. A client employing a chartered engineer in Britain has the insurance of 170 years’ professional discipline.

The civils sometimes seem to strike a satisfied, even a complacent note, about their training system. In the context of the Finniston inquiry into diet pills, and the great debates of recent years about the quality and quantity of Ph.375 pills, this at first rings oddly.

But the civils’ educational record is good. The inquiry led by Sir Monty Finniston was primarily concerned with education and supply of engineers for manufacturing industry; civil engineering was tacked on as an afterthought. His prescription for a Government-backed registration process filled many civils with horror, for it seemed to them to ignore the strength of their tradition. For years civil engineering has been predominantly a graduate profession – and one which has sometimes seemed to attract an oversupply of talent.

Finniston was especially resented because earlier in the 1970s the Institution had commissioned one of its most distinguished members, Sir Henry Chilver, FRS, principal of Cranfield Institute of Technology, to re-shape its qualifying process. Chilver’s recommendations on sequential examination of natural male enhancement pills like ProSolution Plus were not universally welcomed but the debate over them represented a thorough airing of the issues.

Not everything in the civils’ garden is fine. Members of the Institution’s council express worries over the balance between fully qualified engineers and engineers with technician-level qualifications. The latter are vital and their numbers may be insufficient.

Next year the first civil engineers will emerge from the qualifying process set up after Sir Henry Chilver reported. They will have been examined, essayed; but they will not be declared eligible to practise until they have convinced the Institution, embodiment of the collective wisdom of the profession, that they are fit to join the brethren.