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History of the Academy

1991–1996: From Fellowship to Royal Academy

In 1991 Sir Denis Rooke was succeeded as President of The Academy by one of the principal architects of the fundraising appeal, Sir William Barlow FREng. By then The Fellowship had developed a carefully targeted portfolio of programmes and, having played a major role in the development and expansion of CAETS in the late 1980s, it was highly regarded internationally. Its distinguished membership, drawn from all branches of engineering, regularly advised and increasingly provided evidence to parliamentary Select Committees and to government inquiries on contemporary issues. In 1992 its prestige and success in promoting engineering excellence were recognised when, with the grant of a Royal title, it became The Royal Academy of Engineering.

From the very start of his term of office in July 1991 Sir William set out to raise the profile of The Academy further and to enhance its influence, especially with Government. He used his past experience to gain access to Cabinet Ministers, junior Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, many of whom were encouraged to participate actively in Academy events. He instigated a policy of presenting high profile lectures and subjects at Academy events in order to promote excellence in engineering to a broad spectrum of people. This style of presidency was exemplified by a dinner at Guildhall in the City of London for Fellows on 2 July 1992, held to celebrate the grant of the Royal Title and attended by the Senior and Royal Fellows, the President of the Board of Trade, Ministers, senior Civil Servants and representatives of the City, industry, academia and overseas academies.

This was followed in September 1993 by The Academy's first Presidential Address, given by Sir William, entitled National Prosperity: The Role of the Engineer. The second Presidential Address, also given by Sir William, marked the 20th Anniversary of the founding of The Academy. It was held in April 1996 at Guildhall and was attended by the Royal Fellow, the Secretary of State for Science and Technology, other VIP guests, Fellows and their personal guests.

Meanwhile, thanks to the success of the Appeal, The Academy was able to acquire more substantial accommodation at 29 Great Peter Street, Westminster. After extensive internal refurbishing, particularly to provide quality meeting and seminar rooms, The Academy moved in at the end of March 1994. For the first time The Academy was housed in high-quality headquarters providing vastly improved facilities which were consistent with its enhanced status.

Its influence, meanwhile, was increasingly felt at European as well as national level. The Academy played an instrumental role in setting up the European Council for Applied Sciences and Engineering (Euro-CASE), founded in 1992. The same year also saw the four major national expert bodies, The Academy, The Royal Society, The British Academy and the Conference (now Academy) of Medical Royal Colleges coming together to create the National Academies Policy Advisory Group (NAPG), to address broad contemporary issues drawing upon the combined expertise of its constituent members.

The Academy contributed fully to the consultations for the 1993 science White Paper, Realising Our Potential, successfully arguing that existing research funding arrangements through the DTI and the SERC should be replaced by a new research council, to better co-ordinate engineering-related research. This, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), came into being in 1994. The Academy also emphasised that research strategies should support industry and wealth creation, objectives which were written into the mission statements of the new research councils created following the White Paper. The Academy was a key advocate of regular ‘technology foresight’ exercises, intended to advise on future technology requirements. This had, after all, been a founding objective of The Academy; indeed, it had been developing its own programme to identify future key technologies while the White Paper was being prepared. In the event Fellows of The Academy took a very full part in the government's Technology Foresight exercise in 1994 and beyond.

A new activity, encouraged by Sir William, was the bringing of The Academy's expertise to bear on current issues. One example was energy policy. In 1994 The Academy addressed this by analysing the different energy strategies adopted in France and the lessons that might be learnt. Another was safety of roll-on roll-off ferries; some of the recommendations of The Academy's pronouncement on this subject have since been incorporated into policy. This was followed in 1996 by the publication of a Statement on the Construction Industry which highlighted lessons learned from good practice in manufacturing industry which could usefully be adapted to the construction environment.

Another initiative was the introduction of a new award, the Silver Medal, to recognise outstanding contributions to British engineering, leading to market exploitation, by engineers under the age of fifty. Up to four medals are awarded annually. The first presentations were made in 1995.

Meanwhile The Academy continued its engineering in medicine initiatives, culminating in the founding in 1993 of the UK Focus for Biomedical Engineering. In addition further work was undertaken as a result of the 1990 Management of Technology Study, in which one of the issues was the critical role of effective development and use of human resources. This led to further investigation and the report People Manufacturing Success in 1995. The report underlined the importance of companies appreciating the benefits which would flow from fully developing staff and relating them to their own business activities.

At the same time The Academy was developing Engineering Professional Development Awards, introduced in 1994. In contrast to the Panasonic Trust, which addresses the professional development needs of individual engineers, these are administered by companies, and firms applying for funding have to show the relationship between their training proposals and business plans.

Another related and continuing concern was the need to promote better links between higher education and industry. One important development was the replacement of the existing Industrial Secondment Scheme, which had proved its value as a means of providing industrial experience for academic engineers, with a much more extensive programme, launched in 1995. The number of personal research chairs and senior research fellowships continued to expand. By 1996 there were ten chairs and five fellowships supported by industry. In 1996 The Academy co-sponsored with the EPSRC a further series of research chairs in innovative manufacturing, which stemmed in part from The Academy's recommendation that industrial investment in long-term developmental research should be encouraged. There were also nine Clean Technology Research Fellowships, introduced in 1994 and funded jointly with the Clean Technology Unit of the EPSRC.

Both the funding and the existing programmes of The Academy meanwhile expanded steadily. The schools programme of the Continuum covered the whole country by 1995. In the same year leadership awards, to train promising undergraduates for management, were launched. By 1996 numbers on the pre-university programmes had reached nearly 2000, and over 500 companies were involved in the Continuum. Similarly, by 1996 there were 106 Visiting Professors in Principles of Engineering Design in 35 universities.

The success of the scheme to send engineers to Japan meanwhile led the DTI to expand the scheme, so that it involved a range of scientists and technologists in addition to engineers, and offered secondments to other developed economies including Japan. However, its expansion beyond the field of engineering meant that The Academy could no longer be involved in its administration.


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