History of the Academy
1996–2001: Tackling the thorny issues
With the arrival of Sir David Davies CBE FREng FRS as President in 1996, The Academy was able to enhance its influence in the educational and research sectors. Sir David was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence and had previously been Vice-Chancellor of Loughborough University.
His reputation and experience within government circles was to prove invaluable. Sir David initiated a review of Academy activities, particularly of the way advice was prepared and given to government.
Sir David, with support from The Academy, became deeply involved in the national debate over the safety of the UK railway system in 1999 after the Ladbroke Grove train crash left 31 people dead and many injured. In the aftermath of the disaster Deputy Prime Minister the Rt Hon John Prescott MP asked Sir David to conduct an independent review of the safety systems in place on the railways, particularly those that warn drivers of impending red lights. Intense media interest added to the pressures imposed by a very tight schedule. The report was to inform the Public Inquiry into the crash, chaired by the Rt Hon Lord Cullen PC FRSE HonFREng, and a further inquiry specifically on rail safety systems, chaired jointly by Lord Cullen and Professor John Uff QC
Sir Davids report,
Automatic Train Protection for the Rail Network in Britain: A Study, was published in February 2000. He recommended that the UK start planning immediately to introduce the most advanced form of Automatic Train Protection (ATP) systems on high-speed lines but also the continued implementation of the Train Protection and Warning System already being installed. This was on the grounds that, while not ideal, TPWS would save more lives in the immediate future than the far more sophisticated ATP systems, which could take up to 10 years to fit. The situation was politically sensitive and this assessment was not received well by all parties, despite the force of its logic. The Public Inquiries later accepted that TPWS was necessary but called for an accelerated introduction of ATP. Over 450 people were able to hear first-hand how Sir David came to his conclusions at a packed public lecture shortly after the report was published.
Ian Liddell CBE FREng of Buro Happold gave another lecture that attracted an exceptionally large crowd in 1997. The subject was the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, politically one of the most contentious engineering projects in recent years. As a building, if not as an attraction, the Dome was a ground-breaking achievement on a very difficult site. With its 100 metre masts and its teflon-coated skin it achieved both admiration and notoriety in equal measure. The quality and innovation of the engineering design were never in doubt, however, and in 1999 Buro Happold became the first construction engineers to win the
MacRobert Award since Freeman, Fox & Partners won the very first award in 1969 for the Severn Bridge.
Innovation among companies was the focus of another important Academy activity in 1998 a series of seminars called
R&D for Industry. A high-level audience from across UK industry and academia debated how research should be conducted in a global economy, the role of the City and investors, where universities fit in and how government can help. Chaired by Dr Robert Hawley FREng, the seminars produced ideas for further studies and raised The Academys profile in the City in particular. Meanwhile, The Academy had also set up a new scheme to provide practical advice to small- and medium-sized companies on successful design practices. At the peak of its two-year run, the Partnership for Profitable Product Improvement (P3I) involved over 600 companies all over the UK.
The Academy continued its interest in sustainable development issues following its successful conference in 1995. A joint study on the UKs energy policy between The Academy and the Royal Society resulted in the publication in 1999 of
Nuclear Energy: The Future Climate (1956KB), a report highlighting the dangers of government writing off the possibility of building any new nuclear power stations. With current technology this is probably the only way that the UK could meet all its obligations to cut carbon emissions under the Kyoto Treaty. It also highlighted the need for research on carbon sequestration and the more promising types of renewable energy generation. In 2000 the same working group, chaired by Sir Eric Ash CBE FREng FRS, looked critically at the
EU Directive on renewable energy (281KB).
The Visiting Professors in the Principles of Engineering Design scheme had proved so successful that a variation was developed
Visiting Professors in Engineering for Sustainable Development. By 2000 there were 15 professors in post, working with undergraduate tutors and developing course material on areas from the built environment to recycling.
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.
Education, as ever, was a focal point for The Academy during this period, in the face of mounting evidence of a skills shortage in engineering and technology. This was identified by, among others, a 1997 Academy report on Engineering Higher Education chaired by Dr John Forrest FREng. It called for more students to take courses leading to Incorporated Engineer status, the level at which companies were reporting serious recruiting problems but were nevertheless offering challenging, commercial engineering jobs. The quality of university engineering research also came in for scrutiny by The Academy, with two reports published in 1999 comparing UK research with the rest of the world and looking at the way research funding is allocated to engineering projects. A new scheme was also set up to plug a perceived gap in funding for postdoctoral research fellows. The Academy's scheme, introduced in 1999, guaranteed five years salary and an equipment grant for applicants aged under 32 to enable them to establish a research career, with help from Academy mentors.
With 4500 young people involved every year in schemes worth 3.5 million, the Engineering Education Continuum was due for a new image, both to appeal more to participants and to attract new sponsors. During a complete makeover the suite of programmes were re-branded as the
‘Better engineering, science, technology’. The updated marketing material proved so popular that elements were included in a re-working of The
Academy's own corporate image, starting with a new, stronger logo.
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