Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Institution of Chemical Engineers


  The Institution of Chemical Engineers is a learned, qualifying body and professional association for chemical and biochemical engineers, process engineers and related technologists.

  The Institution is based in the UK, Incorporated by Royal Charter and enjoys charitable status.

  Approximately 30 per cent of the Institution's 25,000 members are based outside the UK, principally in Australia, where the Institution has a branch office in Melbourne. The Institution's 85 staff are mainly based at the IChemE's principal office in Rugby, Warwickshire, with a small number of staff based at the Institution's London Office in Gayfere Street, Westminster, which are used principally for meetings.

  The Institution is a Nominated and Licensed Body of the Engineering Council and a member of the Science Council. It provides the secretariat in the UK for the European Federation of Chemical Engineering and its Chief Executive is a member of the Executive Board of the World Chemical Engineering Council and Commonwealth Engineers' Council.

  The IChemE has a turnover of approximately £5 million per annum, something under 25 per cent derives directly from membership subscriptions, the remainder from activities associated with publishing (journals, books and magazines), advertising (IChemE enjoys a leading market position in the advertisement of professional chemical engineering job vacancies), training courses, conferences and distance learning materials.

  Beyond the Institution's freehold ownership of its premises in the UK, the Institution has modest financial reserves equivalent to a few months' working capital, and budgets to achieve a financial break-even over a cycle.

  Until latterly, the Institution has received little direct financial support from Government or related sources. However, the industrial base to which chemical engineers contribute has been generous on a number of occasions, including funding for the purchase and development of the IChemE's principal offices, for the promotion of chemical engineering careers and to develop continuing education and CPD materials.

  Chemical engineers work across a broad span of industries which have been disproportionately successful parts of UK manufacture, including chemicals, oil and gas, nuclear and other energy industries, biotechnology, food and drink, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, water and other environmental industries, process plant manufacture and process engineering contracting. The UK generally enjoys a strong industrial position and positive balance of trade in these sectors.

  The Institution's historic attitude to Governmental funding, which might be described as "wishing to stand on its own two feet" and not being beholden to public monies, was probably inherited from the independent attitude in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s of the chemical and oil industrial base.


  The Institution's position on Government support has, however, modified and nowadays, on a project basis, is welcomed provided it does not prejudice the independence of the Institution's professional position.

  In February 2001, the IChemE successfully bid for DTI support to assist with the development of IChemE's web-based learning portal. The IChemE received, up to 31 March 2002, £39,200 as part of the DTI Innovation and Skills Partnership scheme to provide a one-stop shop for purchasing and receiving training relevant to individuals in the process industries. Within the portal, conventional products are available for purchasing in addition to a new generation of e-learning products. DTI supported the project because they viewed it as a novel approach to improving skills in the chemicals sector.

  More recently DTI funding of £1.2 million, in the period May 2001 to April 2004, has been provided for core infrastructure, training, technology exploitation, publicity, marketing and dissemination for the CRYSTAL Faraday Partnership in Green Chemical Technology. IChemE acts as the contractual partner with DTI, together with two other hub partners—Royal Society of Chemistry and the Chemical Industries Association. There is a possibility of additional funding being awarded for a two year extension to the project.

  Earmarked EPSRC funding of £1 million has been made available for collaborative research projects in Green Chemical Technology, which has to be committed by September 2002.

  In relation to both the DTI supported projects above, the Institution's positioning at the interface between the relevant academic and industrial communities has been shown to be a "winning card" in terms of providing an effective and unique network. This is evidenced in the Faraday Partnership where participants include 10 Consortia and Network Technology Organisations (CANTO), nine direct industrial participants with 40 more working through CANTO networks, and chemistry and chemical engineering departments from 19 universities.

  CRYSTAL's mission is "to be the lead organisation for the research, development and implementation of green technologies and practices in the UK chemical and allied industries".

  A professional Institution such as IChemE enjoys a more independent position than can be provided by an employer organisation or trade association when working in partnership with Government.

  The role of the IChemE has also been recognised latterly by the European Union, which has also provided funding for a number of safety related projects. While technically outside the scope of the present inquiry, the Committee may be interested to know that, acting on behalf of the European Federation of Chemical Engineering, the Institution established at IChemE in 1995 the European Process Safety Centre. The Centre began a project, PRISM (Process Industries Safety Management) Network on Human Factors in April 2001 with an EU funded total support value of £256,000. Outcomes are to promote the concept of human factors particularly amongst small and medium sized enterprises and identify future research needs in the field of human factors in the process industries.

  IChemE is also contracted into two other EU funded projects; ARAMIS, which began on 1 January 2002 with EU funded total value of support of £75,000, whose outcomes are to compare risk assessment methods across Europe and identify best practice in the field of risk assessment; and S2S (Safety to Safety), which is due to begin in June 2002 with total support value of £70,000, whose outcomes are to incorporate all the process industry networks within Europe and identify future research needs in the field of human factors in the process industries.


  While support from Government has, thus far, come principally from the Department of Trade and Industry, there is seen to be scope for equivalent project working in future with the Department for Education and Skills, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Indeed, the Institution already provides, by way of comment on consultation documents and draft legislation, expert input on behalf of the chemical engineering community to documents issued by these Departments.

  The chemical engineering profession sits at the very interface between energy and environmental affairs which are so important to the future sustainable industry. A current project about to be launched by the Institution is a set of metrics to measure progress in achieving sustainable development. This project has been entirely funded by the Institution but will provide, for the first time, a set of independent metrics to help engineers address the issue of sustainable development and enable companies to set targets and develop standards for internal benchmarking and to monitor year on year progress. It is hoped that the dissemination of this project will be promoted by relevant Government Departments.

  Like other professional bodies, the Institution is active in seeking to recruit from the relevant cohort of school leavers into chemical engineering where there has been a decline in school leaving interest in recent years. While industrial support has been forthcoming for the "Whynotchemeng" campaign, the Institution was not successful in bidding for funds from the DTI to match the contributions received from industry and voted from the Institution's reserves.

  The chemical engineering profession does not believe it receives value at present from pan-engineering initiatives which have received support from public funds. Expert input to Government from Institution members and from documents put together by the Institution is a major part of the IChemE's External Relations strategy, as is communicating relevant chemical engineering science and achievement to the public. This is done through PR campaigns and publishing. The Institution receives no public sector support for these activities.

  IChemE would welcome the opportunity to present oral evidence to the Committee on the role of Learned Societies in communicating science to broader publics, attracting able cohorts of school leavers into science and engineering careers and in providing a unique opportunity for networking between academe and industrial practice, as has latterly been recognised through the DTI project funding received by the Institution.

  In relation to other issues touched on in the inquiry, the IChemE is pleased to report that of the current intake into chemical engineering courses, approximately 25 per cent are female, a substantially higher proportion than in other areas of engineering. Further progress and initiatives to attract young women into chemical engineering would help to address the historic gender imbalance. Later this year, the Institution will have its first female President, Professor Dame Julia Higgins DBE, FRS FREng.

  Further progress has been made overseas, notably in the United States and Australia, in attracting even larger numbers of women into chemical engineering and it is important that messages to this effect are carried out into the relevant target communities in the UK. It is encouraging to see an increasing number of senior role models in chemical engineering held by women.

April 2002

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