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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Structural Survey, Volume 26, Issue 4
Engineers and mathematics
One of the papers in this issue (by Achintya Haldar and Ali Mehrabian) traces the long and distinguished history of the structural engineering profession and based on their research, conducted over several decades, attempts to predict the future of the profession. Both authors are located in the USA but some of their observations will find resonance with practitioners and academics working in the UK. One of the issues they discuss is the considerable demand for the services of the profession while at the same time universities experience great difficulty in recruiting undergraduate students onto civil engineering programmes of study. The picture they paint of universities closing civil engineering courses and departments is one that has been mirrored in the UK in recent years. The focus of Haldar and Mehrabian’s paper is on research and practice and they do not go on to discuss the reasons why students are so turned off by quantitative subjects.
Only this morning comes the unsurprising news that it is easier to get a good A level grade in subjects such as media studies than it is in the sciences or mathematics and that some universities believe that the UCAS points system should be changed to reflect this fact. Given this situation it is not perhaps surprising that school pupils opt for “softer” subjects. Since the heady days of my gaining a grade “A” at A level maths at the end of the Lower Sixth I believe that the quality of mathematical teaching in schools in the UK has declined significantly. I noticed this with my own three children. Only one of them studied A level maths, but she had to have extra-school tuition to gain a good grade – a situation that I found difficult to accept given that she was at a fee-paying school. Even at GCSE level my son struggled and had it not been for his father’s help he would not have gained the grade “B” that he eventually achieved. Certainly I find teaching elementary structural mechanics to second year undergraduate building surveying students a difficult task given the mathematical ability that most of them arrive at university with. This is a very serious issue and one that is placing the UK economy at a disadvantage when compared with other European and particularly Asian countries. The Government needs to act decisively now to ensure that things are improved.
I recently attended a conference on flooding organized by the University of Wolverhampton and the Wessex Institute and held at the Institute of Civil Engineers HQ in London. The conference was well attended by delegates from all over the world, including Japan, the USA, Germany and Holland. What was crystal clear after listening to some excellent presentations is that the UK has a great deal to learn from some of these other countries who have been dealing with the problems of flooding much longer than we have. This was a really good example of experts from across the world coming together to share experience about a topic that is likely to exercise all of us over the coming years.
UK recession bites
My colleagues in the real world tell me that this recession is looking like it will be far worse than that experienced some 15 years ago. That one was bad enough and was a significant factor in my becoming an academic. After a sustained period of economic growth we are paying the price for injudicious borrowing and it seems that there will be a significant correction in house prices in the UK. Of course this is not all bad news, particularly for those not yet on the property ladder or for those hoping to climb up a rung or two. The professional firms that survive this recession will be the ones who have put away some of the money they earned over the last few years, for the rainy day that many of them must have realised was only just around the corner.