As Gordon Brown takes over as Prime Minister, The Royal Academy of Engineering, which promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country, warned that the Government’s vision of the UK as a ‘knowledge economy’ could be under threat within ten years due to a shortage of high quality graduate engineers. At a time when engineers are more in demand than ever to solve the twin challenges of energy sufficiency and climate change, the UK’s output of engineers is stagnating while our competitors forge ahead.

Between 1994 and 2004 entries to UK university engineering courses remained stubbornly static at about 24,500 even though total university admissions went up by 40 per cent in the same period. The developing nations are producing record numbers of graduate engineers to fuel their technological and economic development - China and India produce over half a million engineers every year.

The Academy surveyed over 400 companies and 88 UK university engineering departments for its recent report Educating Engineers for the 21st Century. Almost all agreed that industry will need more graduate engineers and that university engineering courses need redesigning for the modern economy. To achieve the type of engineering education tomorrow's engineers need, funding per university engineering student needs to increase by at least 50 per cent.

The Academy also challenges Mr Brown to consult with engineers in dealing with climate change as they are uniquely well placed to give practical and effective advice. Providing society with sufficient energy to meet ever-growing demand in a world of finite resources is the ultimate challenge for engineers. Huge ingenuity will be required to develop realistic and cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels within a short enough time frame to address climate change on a world-wide scale.

We need 'more traction and less spin' from Mr Brown’s Government if we are to meet the enormous engineering challenges inherent in dealing with climate change. The Academy has significant concerns that targets are being mooted and models run on the basis of aspiration rather than practicality. It is imperative that serious initiatives to tackle the climate change and energy agenda do not fail at the first hurdle. Although some reductions in emissions have been observed in some regions, the scale is not large enough to make a difference

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering