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When Engineers Started Needing A Masters Degree

When Engineers Started Needing A Masters Degree

My last post begged the question; why do UK engineers have to get a Masters in Engineering (the MEng) before they’re allowed to become chartered? And it’s turned out to be a surprisingly hard question to answer- especially because, for me, it’s the way it’s always been. You might as well ask why we still call ourselves civil engineers!

First up, the term chartered means to have been admitted to institution (or other learned group) that has been issued a royal charter. The term normally establishes the terminal qualification (mastery, not death), that a professional may obtain. In of itself chartership does not mean that you need a Masters.

Not all chartered engineers have a Masters, in fact, I’ve worked for engineering directors who don’t have degrees! They are all, however, much older than I. And that gives us a bit of a clue as to where to look. In fact, if we check the Royal Charter for the ICE, there’s no mention of the MEng, just the professional review.

As a degree program the MEng started appearing in the 1980s, and there’s the hint that this is the point where engineers started to more commonly pursue Masters on their way to chartership. And looking around that decade we find that the first version of the SARTOR (Standards and Routes to Registration) report had been released; 1985.

The SARTOR guidance was created by the Engineering Council, which had been known as the Council of Engineering Institutions. Established in the mid 1950s, the aim of the council was to agree standards for the education and training of professionals- especially given the large number of engineering institutions that had sprung up since the ICE’s inception in 1818.

The SARTOR publications have seen a number of revisions, however it seems that the 1997 edition was the one that formalised the requirement for all prospective chartered engineers to have a Masters in Engineering. Although this report is seemingly unpublished, our definitive answer of when further learning became mandatory can been seem in a JBM (Joint Board of Moderators) document stating that the MEng is only required from 1999 onwards.

The main reason I’ve found for why the UK adopted a requirement of the MEng seems to stem from the longer courses taken by engineers in Europe. Pretty much every country in Europe require their engineers to study for five years. It was apparently felt by all that this gave them a substantial technical advantage and we should adopt it as a nation.

In 1999, however, the tuition fee was £1000 a year; and with means testing this meant that on average people were paying 10% of what our current students are. That meant that asking people to do another year wasn’t too bad. These days nearly every country in Europe has substantially cheaper tuition fees than us; in fact England is often touted as having the highest university tuition fees in the industrialised world!

And so that’s why, for the last 17 years Chartership has meant “Masters”.

With tuition fees spiralling out of control, however, it might be time to start asking just how important that last year really is?

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  1. Ed Dablin

    IStructE recently reverted to only needing a BEng I believe.