Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. Finally, you have been really quite successful in getting private finance or non-governmental financing for the Royal Academy of Engineering. What lessons do you think you can teach the Royal Society?
  (Sir Alec Broers) I would never dare to try to do that.

  Dr Murrison: This is your opportunity.


  101. Just because they are sitting behind you.
  (Sir Alec Broers) I would never dare to do that and I am very proud of the fact that I am a Fellow of the Royal Society. I think we work well together and I see these different organisations being, as it were, overlapping circles. I do not know exactly the number but I think about 10 per cent of the Royal Society are engineers.
  (Mr Burch) The number is 90 are Fellows of both.
  (Sir Alec Broers) 90 is the number, that is the individual number but I am talking about 10 per cent of the fellowship. If you look at our membership you find us overlapped by the institutions as well. We represent, as it were, a smallish percentage of each of the institutions' fellows.

Dr Murrison

  102. The serious point is clearly you have been very successful in attracting non-governmental money whereas the Royal Society has been less so. Whilst I accept your two organisations are very different, nevertheless as a funder, Government, looking at the two comparing and contrasting one would say one has been successful, the other one has been less successful and why is that, do you think?
  (Sir Alec Broers) I would not say that because I think our mission is very much to overlap with industry, many of our engineers are not pure researchers, they are development engineers. They are people who have, for example, actually delivered the Trent engine; they are people who have delivered many of the other engineering aspects of this country and they are people who build civil engineering projects all over the world. These are very much development and practising engineers. The Royal Society's membership I think is primarily involved in research so you would not expect it, perhaps, to have the same involvement with industrial funding.

  103. So it is the fact you are close to the coal face?
  (Sir Alec Broers) Yes.

Mr Harris

  104. You mentioned earlier, Sir Alec, about the number of fellows, only 1,270 met the criteria and only 15 of them are women, just over 1 per cent. I think one recognises the fact there are even fewer engineers who are women than there are scientists. The Royal Society, for instance, has set up the Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship as an attempt to encourage more women. Have you contemplated similar schemes?
  (Sir Alec Broers) We are contemplating all that we can do. At the moment we are focusing on our educational schemes very heavily but on all of our schemes as well. While we admit, of course—because you can see the numbers—that we are not doing well at all at the moment, we are not doing very much worse than a lot of others.If you look at our various programmes, our Best educational schemes—which are several if you read our report—I think there are about 25 per cent women there. Our graduate programmes similarly: four of our last appointees then in fact were women. Our post-doctoral scheme is 20 per cent overall but our last entry was at 40 per cent. There is this glimmer of hope with the incomers but I agree with Lord May, I heard him say similar things, it will take a long time to fix the whole programme but at the entry point I think there is a glimmer.

  105. It is a glimmer. When I saw the figure of 15 I thought it was a typographical error, I thought there was a zero missing. You mentioned the academic programmes that you run, and you mentioned the figure of 25 per cent. Why has that not translated into a similar figure for graduates and under-graduates?
  (Sir Alec Broers) They are coming through. I have not watched the numbers for many years. I do not know whether, Jon, you can help there?
  (Mr Burch) Of the people on our schemes, the 25 per cent who are female do tend to go on to university and graduate. What we have to do then is to continue the scheme to encourage them to stay in engineering, whatever that is, as a career. We have started a full monitoring programme now of what the success rate is. It is quite difficult for people on the schemes because they might have gone on and done engineering anyway and just being on the scheme is an extra fillip or boost. We have got quite a lot of statistics now which our major funder for that education programme has asked for.

  106. On a similar vein, in terms of ethnic minority participation, do you recognise that you have a responsibility to encourage members of the ethnic minorities into the profession? I understand you do not have monitoring processes for fellows but do you have a monitoring process for staff? The Royal Society I think said they did not.
  (Sir Alec Broers) I think our staff are small enough in numbers that I am sure our Chief Executive knows what the ethnic distribution is.
  (Mr Burch) I can give you their names. Yes, we do, it is totally "equal opportunity" for staff. We have never had a complaint about racial discrimination or anything like that go through to a tribunal or anything like that. On the education schemes, yes we do have some ethnic minority monitoring. For instance, on the Engineering Education Scheme in England this year 15 per cent—you are talking about 4,500 applicants—are from an ethnic minority background. If you look at the Head Start programme, which is again over 800 students, again 15 per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

  107. Of applicants?
  (Mr Burch) No, of people on the schemes.


  108. Could you send us your monitoring programme please?
  (Mr Burch) Yes.

  109. For any group.
  (Mr Burch) I have just got those statistics actually, we have picked them up.

  110. If you have a monitoring policy that would be useful to see. There is a law in the land about monitoring policy.
  (Mr Burch) I appreciate that. We can send you certainly figures for the staff but I can find out exactly how the schemes got those 15 per cent figures.

Mr Heath

  111. One of the great joys of being on this Committee or speaking about science in the House is that you get a great number of invitations every week to attend various things and at least half of them come from different engineering institutions of one sort or another with the result you walk across Parliament Square not quite sure to which institute you are going. Is it in the interests of the wider profession to have 36 different professional bodies? If it is not, what is happening to try to improve matters?
  (Sir Alec Broers) You will be familiar with the new efforts with the ETB—Engineering Technology Board—which is trying to take—

  112. That makes 37, does it not.
  (Sir Alec Broers)—a broad look, even more than those professions. Engineers appear all over the place and frequently they do not have engineering written on their foreheads. I do not see any real harm in it. If an Institution has a fellowship that meets and discusses their own subject and benefits from that mutual exchange then they can be like that. I do not think myself—and I am not really speaking for the Academy here—that it matters that they are separate. I think we have a very important role, however, to bring the best of all those institutions into a containable body. We have talked about its size; it is not easy to keep it contained. I think that interędisciplinary discussions are terribly important today. I think all of the classic boundaries are breaking down and that is where perhaps the institutions have to look very carefully because it is very difficult to see where some of these subjects begin and some of these subjects end and the British Computer Society and the IEE and others are very close and overlap.

  113. To a layman there is an obvious argument for rationalisation within the professions. You do not see it that way.
  (Sir Alec Broers) I do not know. Ann, you are a mechanical engineer, would you like to say something?
  (Professor Dowling) I am an aeronautical engineer, also. Yes, individuals probably belong to several institutions because we have common interests with them. I think Sir Alec is right that there is a role for both. You need organisations—and the Academy is one—that does try and get this integration across engineering but there is a real need to have specialist meetings and specialist views. If you did have them all together they would only split into some specialist groups. As long as one clearly understands—and perhaps the engineering profession has not in the past been clear about putting interactions across—that they do have different remits.

  Chairman: Yes. I warn you that a few years ago the cancer charities sat in front of us and told us that Omo and Daz did not mix. You can see what has happened to CRC and ICRF now, it is a great benefit.

Mr Heath

  114. I think we have established that engineers are naturally vociferous anyway. Let us leave that.
  (Sir Alec Broers) Sorry to interrupt. If I can answer the Chairman a little. I agree with you in the cancer, I am involved in my other job in setting up a very large lab but the institutions are not research laboratories. If they were then I think there would be benefit in bringing them together. There might be benefit in having more joint meetings. I think, as Professor Dowling has said, they are going to pull into their specialities even if you have them under one heading.

  115. Okay. Let us look at the bodies which try to bring the various branches together. You say in your submission to us that "some commentators remain uncertain about how the Royal Academy of Engineering relates to the. . . new Engineering and Technology Board". Well, I am one of those commentators, I am not clear how you relate. Could you explain a little bit further how you see your role as distinct from the Engineering and Technology Board?
  (Sir Alec Broers) Let me start and then Jon can say more about the mechanics of it. Our role, I think I have said several times and we have been discussing that, is to bring together an-inter-disciplinary group of experts so they can discuss together the issues of engineering in this country and be advocates for it. The ETB is looking at engineering as a whole and it is trying to bring all those 36 institutions and even move beyond that and try and make sure that moving between the different levels of engineering is co-ordinated over the entire engineering community. Jon, would you like to comment?
  (Mr Burch) I totally agree with that. Yes, we represent the highest achieving engineers in all disciplines. But industry, as well as having high engineers-chartered engineers if you like- requires incorporated engineers, it requires technician engineers, it requires all sorts of people who could be called engineers who probably do not belong to institutions and certainly do not belong to the Academy. The ETB's remit was to try and represent what was called The universe of engineering when the Academy wrote the report for it. How are we going to work together? The Chief Executive has only been in post for three weeks, I went and called on him last week, and the President, Sir Peter Williams, is also a Fellow of the Royal Academy.
  (Sir Alec Broers) He has been a member of our Council. I know him personally very well.
  (Mr Burch) We have agreed we have got to try and work together and be complementary rather than duplicative but exactly how it is going to work in practice as we move down the track, remains to be seen. They have hardly got any of their boards in place yet. The next meeting I think is at the end of this month.

  116. You are effectively a set within their larger set?
  (Mr Burch) Yes, that is how we drew it exactly.

Bob Spink

  117. You are at the top.
  (Mr Burch) Yes.

Mr Heath

  118. How about the Engineering Council?
  (Mr Burch) That has stopped. It died on 31 March. The Engineering Council UK is the registrant body which maintains standards for registration working within the Engineering and Technology Board. I am sorry if I am confusing you.

  Mr Heath: No. We have demonstrated now, or at least I have, my complete ignorance but I am grateful to you. I did not realise that.

  Chairman: If we ever get that question on University Challenge or its equivalent we will know the answer.

Mr McWalter

  119. I have got the bits and pieces at the end. I might mention that you talk about bringing people together, I once attended an artificial intelligence seminar where IEE people were with computer scientists and everyone was divided by a common language even though the only elements of the language were nought and one. It really would not have worked, it had to break up again because clearly it was impossible to do. I was interested in your paper when under the word "Policy" you said "The Academy has a strong track record of advising Government and Parliament on engineering matters". That struck me as a funny thing to put in a bit called "Policy". The word "policy" occurs in two or three other papers but we do not find out anything about your policy. It is almost like we have got a policy and these people have developed a policy. I wonder why the absence of any context to that?
  (Sir Alec Broers) If I can answer that in several ways. We may have an official policy statement so the President is going out on dangerous ground by trying to define it. I have not been the President for so long. My policy is to make sure that we use our fellowship to the greatest advantage for the benefit of the country. Now that may sound a bit grand but it involves for a start advising Government. I think we should be the body that Government turns to when complex engineering issues are on the table. Our policy is to make ourselves available for that. I am also a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Engineering and that Academy is more tightly tied in to government than we are at the moment. I would like to see us move towards that position. I think we can help Government and there can be a mutual relationship.


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