THE Engineering Council may propose a tiering of the Chartered Engineer qualification in an effort to dampen fierce criticisms of its plans to reform engineering education and training.
According to sources in professional engineering institutions, the council is also considering bringing in tough new entry qualifications for engineering degree courses over a period of four years rather than in one "big bang" as had been feared by many university departments.
Last week, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals warned that the new entry standards being proposed by the council could halve the number of engineering graduates.
Vice chancellors including Michael Driscoll, of Middlesex University, and Neil Buxton, of Hertfordshire University recently slammed the council's final draft report on professional qualifications as "elitist" and a threat to the profession.
The council is now thinking about creating three grades of chartered engineer: the Associated Chartered Engineer for those holding the incorporated engineer qualification; the Chartered Engineer Member, which would be equivalent to the present level; and a new "supergrade", the Chartered Engineer Fellow.
Professor Buxton gave a cautious welcome to the idea: "It is a step in the right direction although we wait to see the full details if the proposal becomes fully developed."
David Bonner, secretary of the heads of engineering body, the Engineering Professors' Conference, said the tiering "would get around the problem of IEng being unattractive. In theory it would give everyone access to chartered engineer status but we need to see exactly what the entry levels would be for each grade".
The council is also considering "ramping" the introduction of its tough new entry qualifications for degree. These would require 24 points at A level or equivalent for MEng; 18 points for BEng (Hons) and six points for the ordinary BEng, which could lead to registration as IEng.
In the first two cases, the requirement should cover 80 per cent of a course's intake in a given year. Many universities fear that this could lead to a big drop in the number of accredited courses and some departments closing.
The council is now considering stepping up student intake under the new regime in stages, with 50 per cent of the 1999 cohort being required to meet the new standards, followed by 60 per cent in 2000 and so on, up to 80 per cent in 2003.