The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

by | Nov 28, 2011 | Engineering | 0 comments

The announcement of establishment of the international £1 million peer-reviewed Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is something to celebrate. Whoever put forward the idea should be wholeheartedly congratulated, for it is an important step in enhancing the status of the engineering profession.  Given our nations history, engineering should be up-there amongst the the most revered, respected and highly regarded of professions. Sadly however, it has tended to languish in relative obscurity in the psyche of our nation.  Engineers are to some extent to blame for not having done enough to promote their discipline in the media and among the public. Although like so many ‘applied’ subjects (with perhaps the exception of medicine) which cross the boundaries between academic endeavour and practical application, engineers have suffered from a mix of being too near-market to warrant significant government investment and lack of status: the latter because of the emphasis placed on the delivery of practical solutions as opposed to academic excellence! This is not to say that engineers do not achieve standards of excellence, it is just that their success is based on delivery of solutions of practical value rather than more esoteric academic measures.

The UKs commitment to ‘scientific excellence’ is all out of proportion to the Nation’s need and ability to solve practical problems which have economic value. And if thought through rationally, then the delivery of solutions of practical value to a society and a nation should form the foundation of esteem, respect and regard on which we prioritise and support invention through public funds. Engineering should not therefore be in the doldrums – as a nation made great through engineering, it should be integral to our systems of innovation and to our society.

The problem-solving approach of engineering is something that our UK science base could genuinely benefit from understanding and emulating. With a desperate need to drive our economic recovery through innovation (inventions of commercial value), perhaps one of the most direct ways of securing short term economic growth would be to invest more in engineering innovation. In the longer term however, the economy will benefit from a higher profile for engineering, generated by the new Queen Elizabeth award, provided that this marks the beginning of greater support for this great profession including:

    • greater emphasis on relevant education with enthusiastic and well informed teachers
    • engineering practitioners held in high regard and treated with respect by key influencers and the media
    • appropriate engineering literate programming in public service broadcasting
    • professionals paid a salary commensurate with a valued role in society appropriate
    • investment in engineering led initiatives
    • publicised and celebrated delivery of engineering achievements

None of this is ‘rocket science’ but it surprising how simple principles are often the most difficult to appreciate and implement. Lets hope that the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering marks the start of a process which will transform engineering in the pysche of the nation.

David Dent

CEO Dent Associates Ltd