The Fellowship was established to honour the contribution to engineering excellence of British engineers. In 1986 it also began to elect Foreign Members and Honorary Fellows, and the Duke of Kent was made a Royal Fellow. When Sir Denis Rooke CBE FRS FREng, former Chairman of British Gas, became President he set out to develop The Fellowship's influence further, actively seeking increases in both Grant-in-Aid and industrial funding. He was instrumental in establishing a new programme of senior research fellowships and chairs, jointly funded with industry, the first of which was set up at Cambridge in September 1986, supported by British Gas.
One major concern had always been design education. A series of reports stressing the need to relate design teaching to industrial practice led to the appointment of eight senior engineers from industry as the first Visiting Professors in the Principles of Engineering Design in 1989.
Management and linguistic skills were clearly important if British engineers were to be as effective as possible in industry. The Fellowship was able to begin to address this field of management skills thanks to the vision of David (now Lord) Sainsbury, who approached the President in 1986 to develop a scheme to enable outstanding young engineering graduates to undertake MBA courses at European business schools. This was the start of the Engineering Education Continuum, a series of educational programmes from sixth form to postgraduate level, launched in 1990 with funding from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and additional support from industry and training bodies.
In 1988 a working party was set up on medical engineering, an activity that would later lead to the formation of the UK Focus for Biomedical Engineering. Draft guidelines for engineers on procedures for identifying and handling potentially hazardous situations were presented at a successful conference on Warnings of Preventable Disasters in 1990.
The Fellowship aimed to promote best practice in the use of advanced technology in industry but it realised that technology had to be integrated into overall company strategy, from product development, through training and investment, to marketing. The result was the Management of Technology Initiative and a major report on this theme was published in 1991.