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The climate change battle will be won by engineers

23 March 2011

In this week's article, Bosch UK president, Peter Fouquet argues that the recent upturn in the numbers of engineering graduates must not lead to complacency if we are to win the battle against climate change. The good news is that the number of engineering graduates in the UK has been climbing in recent years. The bad news is that we still need many, many more.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency demonstrate that, after years of falling numbers, engineering graduates are steadily increasing. From a low point of 21,735 graduates in 2005/6 we have reached 30,530 in 2009/10. That equates to a 40 per cent increase in the space of just five years. This turnaround is a tremendous success story, but we must not become complacent. We need more and more young people to opt for a career in engineering if we are to tackle many of the major issues that we face as a society, most notably the issue of climate change. Dr Fouquet takes up the story:

"I recently listened to a speech by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor David Mackay, who outlined the government’s vision of how we are to get to the low carbon future that our climate change commitments demand by 2050. Professor Mackay presented a detailed roadmap of how we will use nuclear, solar, wind and tidal power, amongst other technologies, to replace our dependency upon fossil fuels. As he talked, it became clear to me that the problem we have is not a lack of vision, but a lack of talented engineers to help implement that vision.

"Engineering is the key not only to finding innovative ways to generate electricity to heat our homes and power our cars, but it will also help us to bridge the gap between our present dependence upon fossil fuels and the low carbon future.

"Let me give you an example. It is unlikely that electric cars will have a significant market share for some years, so it is likely that the internal combustion engine will have a large role to play in emissions reduction. Bosch engineers are, therefore, working to reduce the fuel consumption of gasoline and diesel engines by up to one third through high pressure injection, advanced turbo-charging and downsizing. Downsizing helps reduce the capacity of an engine, whilst still maintain excellent performance, drivability and reduced emissions. Assuming downsizing concepts and other technologies are consistently applied, a mid-class vehicle will consume 29 percent less fuel by 2015 than it does today.

"Engineering will also be the key to bringing down the unit cost of many products. For many consumers, the unit cost of solar panels or a ground source heat pump to heat their home is a significant barrier to entry. Innovation driven by engineering will be a vital component in lowering these costs and fuelling the uptake of renewable technologies.
But where are we to find these engineers? In my view, we must deal with this problem at source. In the UK, the title of engineer does not have the social status afforded to it in other countries. All too often the title of engineer evokes images of overalls and toolboxes.

"The truth is very different. A modern engineering graduate has a ticket to tour the world working at the very cutting edge of technology helping governments, businesses and individuals become leaner, faster and better.
"For this reason, Bosch in the UK has once again launched its Technology Horizons Award for 2011, an essay writing competition aimed at those still in school and also those who are making their degree choices. Our ultimate aim is not to identify a promising individual or the outstanding young engineer of his or her generation.  Our aim is simply to encourage young people to pause for a moment and consider the possibility of a career in engineering.

"Robert Bosch, whose original business was set up 125 years ago this year, Robert Stephenson, Brunel and Charles Parsons, the inventor of the turbo generator, all made enormous leaps in technological innovation and great contributions to society. We need the next generation to do the same if we are to win the battle against climate change."

Further information about the Bosch Technology Horizons Award can be found here.

Les Hunt

Reader comments:

From Mr Rod Dalitz:
A few years ago I read that every member of the Chinese cabinet held an engineering degree (though I could be mis-remembering for science degree). I cannot find my reference for this. There are many places an engineering degree can be valuable apart from doing engineering, since the numeracy and analytical thought in science and engineering should carry over so much better than, say, Classics, which used to be a prime qualification for UK government.

From Mr Brian Holmes:
I agree, but only if there are companies for the engineers to work for and therefore have reason to take engineering subjects when deciding.

In my 41 years as an engineer the decline in engineering and heavy manufacturing industry in the UK is remarkable and depressing.

The governments have been happy to let heavy industry go because it helped with reducing emissions and climate change effectively exporting this to the BRIC countries. And whilst our financial services sector was doing well nobody complained until it collapsed causing our present problems.

It is difficult for industry to restart when all the plant and equipment not to say the expertise is lost and when the manufacturing is done in other countries you are at a distinct disadvantage to get involved in the engineering of it from cultural, geographical and economical grounds.

We need a powerful, coherent and concerted effort from Government, finance, existing companies, unions and the people to grow our manufacturing base. There are some notable success stories in the UK so it certainly can be done. The investment in apprentices is a good start but we need more, including the right financial climate to encourage investment and a long term approach rather than short term profit thinking. Germany and Bosch in particular show this sort of strategic long term thinking and the UK would do well to emulate this.

From Mr Lewis Tonkinson:
This is excellent and welcome news, but it still doesn't change the fact that independently Indian and China  produce more engineers each year than the whole of Europe combined. We should ink about identifying areas where we can be a world leading country, aerospace and nuclear for example, and make the tuition fees free for those subjects. It could be easily policed by say if someone moves out of the field within five years they have to pay it back.

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