Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-131)
SIR ALEC BROERS, PROFESSOR ANN DOWLING, AND MR JON BURCH
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
120. That is an interesting thing to say but clearly once you have spelt out the policy as opposed to how you translate that into practice, the interesting thing is your policy is much wider than that. It could involve, for instance, giving kids throughout the country a positive view of engineering.
(Sir Alec Broers) I was focusing on that issue.
121. The policy lends itself to that in the way this particular bit of policy is rather narrow. Maybe it would be helpful to clear that up because if you develop a rather more generous definition of your policy it may be that we can evaluate the extent to which you are getting value for money.
(Sir Alec Broers) We have a statement in the front of our booklet.
122. I saw that when we came to visit you. I still found it was quite evasive, you might talk about that.
(Sir Alec Broers) We tried in our report to lay this out. I think we got to 14 points in the end.
123. This lunchtime I was dealing with some people who were calling themselves engineers who work at the Hounslow bus garage. Obviously they are not in your remit but clearly in a sense this Committee is interested in promoting opportunities for young people eventually to develop the technical expertise which lands them in Hounslow bus garage. Do you see that as completely outwith your responsibilities.
(Sir Alec Broers) No.
124. Do you think you have some role to play in fostering that interest in technical matters at that level?
(Sir Alec Broers) I think that is more the role of the institutions and the ETB than is our role. However, we would like to have our fellowship, our Fellows, be an inspiration to others and we are always looking at this. I was at a remarkable occasion last night for women in science and engineering at which Bonnie Dunbar the US astronaut spoke. That inspiration for young women I think is incredibly valuable and it may bring people into the first ranks of engineers; it is extremely important.
125. If we develop engineering special schools you are not going to be involved any more in sending a young whizz kid to inspire people.
(Sir Alec Broers) We take interest in our educational programmes.
(Mr Burch) We are already sponsoring three engineering specialist schools and we would love to sponsor more. Also we are in active dialogue at the moment with an organisation called Young Engineers which aims to go out to every school in the country at all levels to talk about what fun there is in going into engineering where you can build things and be part of the process. We recognise as well as industry recognises that it needs engineers at all levels to succeed.
(Professor Dowling) The Engineering Education Scheme that the Academy runs is in over 200 schools.
(Mr Burch) Yes.
(Professor Dowling) That is where schoolchildren do projects for local industry.
126. Will you be involved in the Applied Science GCSE that is developing from this September and have you pushed for there to be an Engineering GCSE/A level?
(Mr Burch) We responded to the Education 14-19 Paper pushing the importance of engineering. Engineering schools are for science, maths, technology and, yes, we push for that to be recognised as an important strand of education.
(Sir Alec Broers) I have somewhat unconventional views on this perhaps but I do not think it is necessary to have an engineering course in a school. Sometimes I wonder whether we should even classify students as engineers when they enter university, that should be a choice they might even make after their first year in university, for example. Very often people are not sure exactly what they want to do. I have seen in university quite a crossover from the science subjects to engineering, even in the second and third year in universities it is made possible. Young people may not necessarily see this as their life's ambition until they get involved in science and then they see that it would be extremely exciting to take that science and really apply it and really take it into the market place and do something. I do not think we need to drive them in that direction early on, let them mature a bit further and then they will see the advantages of becoming an engineer.
127. A very interesting view but it sits rather badly with the idea of Engineering Specialist Schools, for example, if the Academy has that view.
(Sir Alec Broers) There are pros and cons.
(Sir Alec Broers) For some people who are very keen indeed and know what they want to do in their lives then those schools will be very beneficial and they will train them in a very specialist way; there are others who do not.
129. Would you like the Royal Society to hand responsibility for engineers over to you, along with some extra funding? Do you have any idea how much the Royal Society spends on engineering projects?
(Sir Alec Broers) I do not know how much they spend on engineering projects.
130. 10 per cent.
(Sir Alec Broers) Certainly I would not like them to hand them over to us, I would lose my Fellowship for a start. No, I think it is very important that we overlap because we are part of science. I do not even know where the boundary is sometimes. I have spent part of my life with electron-microscopes looking at leukemic blood cells with doctors at the same time as I was managing an engineering project putting in $100 million worth of equipment into a semiconductor factory, and I was those things at the same time. It was not that I was part of the time a scientist and part of the time an engineer. I did it at the same time and one thing fed off another. I think really to try and draw these distinctions is a great mistake.
131. We have come to an end, sadly. Thank you for being succinct, clear and giving us great guidance in terms of this inquiry. We know much more about learned societies now and what they do and we will be doing our bit in our report. Thank you very much, Sir Alec, for bringing your team. I always did prefer your Desert Island Discs.
(Sir Alec Broers) I will not get into that, Chairman.