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History of the Academy

2001–2006: Laying the foundations for future growth

In July 2001 Sir Alec Broers DL FREng FRS was elected President. He had been Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University since 1996 and remained so until his retirement in 2003. Sir Alec was an internationally recognised figure in the areas of engineering research and education. In 2004 he was granted a Life Peerage, becoming Lord Broers, and in the same year he was elected Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. The BBC invited Lord Broers to present the 2005 Reith Lectures on the theme of “The Triumph of Technology” bringing him further recognition as an eminent and original thinker on future developments in engineering and technology.

The Academy instituted two new major awards during this period. The Sir Frank Whittle Medal recognised an engineer whose outstanding and sustained achievement had contributed to the well-being of the nation. The first award was made in 2001 to Professor Tim Berners-Lee for his role in the creation of the World Wide Web. The Public Promotion of Engineering Medal recognised an individual, small team or organisation who had contributed to the Academy's aims and work through their initiative in promoting engineering to the public. The first award was made in 2002 to Dr Adam Hart-Davis, who presented popular science and engineering programmes on TV.

Lord Broers was always mindful that the Academy had to reach out beyond the engineering community in order to engage with the public on engineering issues of key importance, for example nano-technology and GM crops. He therefore encouraged Sir Duncan Michael FREng to pursue an initiative called Facing Out. The Facing Out Group comprised Fellows, MPs and representatives from the media and arts. It met a number of times and developed ideas on how the influence of the Academy could be broadened and how public interest in engineering could be captured. The findings of the Group had a significant impact on the subsequent development of the Strategic Plan.

An example of the importance to the Academy of broadening its base came in May 2002 with the publication of the House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology’s report on the funding of the learned societies. The report was generally favourable, however there was criticism of the gender and ethnic monitoring of the participants in Academy schemes. A monitoring procedure was quickly introduced, and became one of a number of mechanisms and activities aimed at encouraging wider participation in engineering from women and minority ethnic groups.

A major milestone in the widening of participation was reached in September 2005 with the launch of the London Engineering Project in the London Boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth. This project, funded initially by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, was aimed at encouraging participation in engineering higher education from underrepresented groups, in particular women, people from families with no higher education experience, ethnic minorities and adult learners. The early results were encouraging and funding was secured for the period needed to monitor the progress of an entire cohort of school students through secondary school and into university level.

The support of high quality engineering research remained the bedrock of Academy funded programmes during this period, with continuing growth in the number of Research Chairs, Senior Research Fellowships and Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowships. The competition for these posts remained intense as the required standards were very high.

Lord Broers also encouraged increasing activity in the field of education, acknowledging that schools feed the universities with the talent to produce future generations of excellent engineers and technicians. There were a number of major developments in education activities. In September 2003 the Gatsby Charitable Foundation awarded the Academy 1 million over three years to fund the development of the Best Education Programme. This had a considerable impact in several areas. The launch of the London Engineering Project has been referred to above. In October 2005 the Government requested the Academy to lead the Technology and Science in Schools Strategy. This led to the launch in November 2005 of the Shape the Future Campaign aimed at bringing coherence and coordination to science, engineering and technology schemes in schools. The Campaign also focussed on professional development for teachers to ensure they were aware of the latest developments in industry in order to better advise their students on career opportunities in engineering.

The Academy’s policy activities increased during this period with dozens of expert inputs to Government and Parliamentary bodies. Several important and influential reports were also published, notably on the Future of Engineering Research, the Cost of Generating Electricity, Nanotechnologies, the Challenges of Complex IT Projects, Energy and Climate Change, Risks in Engineering, Ethics in Engineering, Philosophy in Engineering and Privacy and Surveillance.

The Academy made a submission for grant funding as part of the government’s 2004 Spending Review. In January 2005 the government announced that it would increase grant funding by more than two thirds in the period up to 2007/08. The Academy regarded this as a major vote of confidence in its activities.

In October 2004 the Academy was delighted to receive a donation from the ERA Foundation of 8 million. This enabled a range of new programmes to be introduced which were generally sympathetic to the aims and ambitions of the ERA Foundation. These included an engineering research prize and the ERA Foundation International Lecture, the inaugural lecture being given in March 2006 by Dr Craig Barrett, Chairman of Intel Corporation.

Lord Broers initiated a number of major developments to strengthen both the way in which the Academy was governed and also the way in which business was carried out. The following were notable among these initiatives:

  • A new procedure for electing Council members was set up, and in July 2003 the first democratically elected members took their seats on Council.

  • In September 2004 a new post of Development Director was created to organise a major development appeal.

  • In October 2004 the current visual identity was launched, and at the same time the Ingenia magazine and web site were re-launched.

  • In July 2005, following an extensive period of consultation among the Fellowship, Council approved the Strategic Plan 2005-2010. This had four key objectives:
    (i) to engage more effectively with the public and the public policy process
    (ii) to attract more people to a wider range of engineering careers
    (iii) to enhance the contribution of engineering in raising the UK’s innovation performance
    (iv) to strengthen the Academy and its ability to make an impact

  • In January 2006 a Membership Study was initiated and chaired by Sir Peter Gershon CBE FREng. The study aimed to develop procedures for obtaining nominations for Fellowship from underrepresented groups such as women, younger candidates, candidates from small and medium sized enterprises and candidates from newly emerging industrial sectors.

The Academy’s long cherished ambition of obtaining premises which could cater for the majority of its activities, such as lectures and conferences, was given a major boost in July 2005 with the formation of the New Building Steering Group. The Group, initially chaired by Mr Norman Haste FREng then by Sir David Davies CBE FREng FRS, was tasked with finding a new building for the Academy. Several options were considered before success was finally achieved with the acquisition of the lease on 3 and 4 Carlton House Terrace in 2006.

In conclusion the period under Lord Broers’ Presidency was one of growing confidence and optimism for the Academy which built solid foundations for further development.


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