The arrival of Sir David Davies CBE FREng FRS as President enabled the Academy to enhance its influence in the educational and research sectors. He was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence and his reputation within government circles was to prove invaluable.
Advising on safety, research and power
The Academy became deeply involved in the national debate over railway safety 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 safety systems. 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 FREng.
Sir David's report, Automatic Train Protection for the Rail Network in Britain: A Study, was published in 2000. He recommended that the UK start planning to introduce the most advanced form of Automatic Train Protection systems on high-speed lines but continue the current installation of the Train Protection and Warning System in the interim. The situation was politically sensitive and this assessment was not received well by all parties, but the Public Inquiries later accepted that TPWS was necessary and called for an accelerated introduction of ATP.
In 1998, a series of Academy seminars called R&D for Industry brought together a high-level audience to debate how research should be conducted in a global economy. Chaired by Dr Robert Hawley FREng, the seminars raised the Academy's profile in the City in particular. 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.
Sir Eric Ash CBE FREng FRS chaired a joint study on UK energy policy with the Royal Society, resulting in the 1999 report Nuclear Energy: The Future Climate, which highlighted the need for new nuclear power stations. It also called for research on carbon sequestration and the more promising types of renewable energy generation.
Identifying the skills gap
A 1997 Academy report on Engineering Higher Education, chaired by Dr John Forrest FREng, identified mounting evidence of a skills shortage in engineering and technology. 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, 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.
With 4,500 young people involved every year in schemes worth £3.5 million, the Engineering Education Continuum was due for a makeover and it was re-branded as the Best programme ‘Better engineering, science, technology’.