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History of the Academy

2006 - 2011: Moving engineering to the centre of society

Lord Browne of Madingley FREng FRS, elected President in July 2006, had then been Group Chief Executive of BP plc for more than a decade. His global reputation was to prove invaluable to the Academy.

Lord Browne made it his mission "to move engineering to the centre of society", In support, several grand challenges for the world were identified where the engineering contribution would be decisive: climate change and energy, poverty reduction and the improvement of health and well-being.

The Academy could not do this alone; it would need to work with the wider engineering profession. However, engineering in the UK had long been characterised by multiple institutions and diffuse impact. Lord Browne set out to provide national leadership for engineering together with like-minded bodies.

In an era of considerable growth for the Academy, the global financial crisis of 2007/8 provided a constant backdrop. One valuable outcome was a renewed appreciation of the importance of engineering in a rebalanced economy.

Real impetus resulted from a year-long Parliamentary inquiry into engineering. In its influential report (2009), the Select Committee for Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills concluded that engineering had the potential to transform the UK economy and to support recovery from the global recession. It also recommended that future decisions on critical issues needed to have engineers at the heart of policymaking.

A key recommendation was that Government engagement with engineering should begin with the Academy which would coordinate and lead the efforts of the professional engineering community.

The Academy now became the host for two significant initiatives undertaken with the engineering profession:

  • Education for Engineering (E4E) was launched in 2009 to provide Government with advice on all aspects of education and, from the start, had real impact. An alliance of engineering institutions, hosted by the Academy, E4E sought to influence education policy relevant to the formation of engineers and technicians. Its first area of focus was on Further Education (FE).

  • Engineering the Future, was also launched in 2009 to make a unified contribution to policy with an engineering dimension while also promoting engineering to the wider public. Reports commissioned by government in its first two years included major work on Global Water Security, Infrastructure, Engineering and Climate Change Adaptation and Nuclear Lessons Learned. Its activities also included advice to Parliamentary enquiries, an engineering presence at party conferences and briefings to parliamentary candidates.

The Academy's own activities in education expanded rapidly. While continuing to support high achievers at undergraduate and graduate levels, through activities such as Engineering Leadership Awards, the net was now spread more widely with the aim of inspiring young people from all backgrounds with the excitement of engineering. The London Engineering Project (LEP), aiming to widen participation from under-represented groups, began in earnest in 2006 and embraced schools in the London Borough of Lambeth and Southwark and some neighbouring boroughs. This went on to prompt similar activities in Barrow-in-Furness (2008) and then nationally.

The Academy also supported the creation of the new Technician Council, designed to elevate the status and recognition of technicians, and became its host in 2010.

Influential reports

Two education reports from the Academy had significant impact. Educating Engineers for the 21st Century (2007) was the result of investigations led by Professor Julia King CBE FREng. This considered the changes required in the engineering education curriculum to create professional engineers with the skills they would need for the new century. Well received, it inspired a raft of subsequent activity.

One consequence was a further report, Graduate Engineers for Industry (2010), produced under the chairmanship of Professor Sir William Wakeham FREng. This pointed to experience-led learning as the key aspiration for engineering degrees in the future.

On the wider policy front, examples from a multiplicity of Academy studies and reports completed in this period included: Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance; A Statement of Ethical Principles; studies and events on Philosophy of Engineering; Carbon emissions Targets, the Severn Barrage, Engineering and IT, Nuclear Skills and Synthetic Biology, and Generating the Future: UK energy systems fit for 2050 and Charged with Potential. This was accompanied, from 2008, by an ambitious new public affairs and communications programme.

The Academy heightened its public profile in 2008 with the launch of www.raengtv allowing global access to its lectures and major events. Its quarterly magazine Ingenia also tripled its circulation and placed its articles on a new website as a free online engineering resource.

Work on policy went hand in hand throughout this period with action on public engagement, aided by the Academy's new Ingenious scheme. The Academy took a lead role at the Cheltenham Science Festival and was, from its beginning in 2009, a strong supporter of the Big Bang Fair.

Meanwhile, the Academy's portfolio of support for research, training and education was consolidated. Its group of more than a hundred 100 Visiting Professors expanded and diversified, based on experience-led teaching at undergraduate level. New schemes were introduced: Distinguished Visiting Fellowships; Research Chairs in Emerging Technology; and Research Exchanges with China and India. The Academy also grew its existing programme of support for research chairs and fellowships.

The government's 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review proved valuable for the Academy with an overall increase in Grant in Aid of 5% per annum for the period to 2010/11. Grant in Aid support increased to 12.826 millions. However, worldwide financial turmoil influenced the next Review, in 2010. Fortunately, the coalition government recognised the value of engineering to the economy and reflected this is in a reduced but relatively good settlement for the Academy and its peer organisations, entailing a 3% cash reduction over the following four years.

The Academy's international profile as a national academy with a global outlook was heightened during Lord Browne's presidency. There were several new ventures undertaken in this period:

  • Energy was the subject of several international events and visits. In 2008 The Academy initiated and hosted the first annual conference of Euro-CASE, involving all European national academies of engineering. The focus was the challenge of meeting the European Union's 2020 renewable energy targets. Energy was the theme of further meetings with academies in China and India.

  • In 2010 The Africa-UK Engineering for Development Partnership was launched. This major enterprise brought together the engineering communities in sub-Saharan Africa and the UK in a consortium led by the Africa Engineers Forum, the Academy and the Institution of Civil Engineers.

  • In 2010 the Academy joined with the science and engineering academies of China, the US and the UK for the first of a series of major symposia in an important new technology, synthetic biology. The Academy's original policy work in this area had been the catalyst.

Throughout these years Professor Dame Wendy Hall FREng FRS led for the Academy in the promotion of diversity in engineering. Work began with a radical review of all the Academy's own policies with the objective of ensuring that all barriers to under-represented groups in engineering were removed. This led to the Academy gaining funds under CSR 2010 to allow wider engagement on diversity with the engineering profession and industry

Recognising excellence

In 2010 the Academy renamed its Public Promotion of Engineering Medal the Rooke Medal, in honour of esteemed past President Sir Denis Rooke OM CBE FREng FRS, who died in 2008.

By 2011 the Academy's Annual Awards Dinner had become a highly popular event held at prestigious locations in London. No less importantly, engineering industry had increasingly come to recognise the value of supporting this and other Academy events.

Forum for Engineering

In 2007 the Academy moved to 3 Carlton House Terrace, alongside the other national academies. This was to have a galvanising effect on the Academy which was keen to maximize the potential of its new facility.

Led by Sir John Parker FREng, a development campaign was designed to promote the Academy as a Forum for Engineering and as a valuable partner for engineering industry. This attracted keen interest and substantial funds. By mid-2011 the Academy was ready to start major building works to transform its public facilities.

Separately, the campaign set out to establish an Education and Engagement Endowment Fund aimed at attracting more young people to engineering. This greatly aided the Academy's engagement with engineering industry.

As Lord Browne's presidency drew to a close the Academy was now well equipped to take on extra responsibility.


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