Professor Tim Ibell, Associate Dean for Research, reflects on his year as President of the Institution of Structural Engineers:
During 2015, I had the immense privilege of being President of the Institution of Structural Engineers. The Institution is the largest professional body worldwide devoted solely to structural engineering, with 27,000 members spread across 105 countries.
Gaining entry into the Institution of Structural Engineers is famously difficult, and involves having to pass a seven-hour written examination as one of the steps. Only 35% of those taking this examination pass it, despite all those attempting it having at least a Masters degree, or equivalent, in structural engineering. This means that when, as President, you visit Members of the Institution around the world they are fiercely proud of their connection, and fiercely determined that standards should never drop in entering the Institution. This was a striking issue for me on my travels, which included visits to the US, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore (twice), Hong Kong, China and India. I also visited all 22 UK (and Irish) regional groups.
My message remained consistent throughout the year. Our profession is profoundly creative, and becoming ever more creative as we embrace the digital revolution. Our university education of structural engineers must reflect this fact. We can no longer plough the furrow of a narrow engineering education based squarely on maths and physics. We must embed a breadth of outlook and creativity as core learning outcomes, and use creativity as the basis for an inspirational learning environment such that students want to learn everything they need for themselves because they are motivated to do so. Without the underpinning creativity, we have a dull, lifeless degree programme which requires that students are taught because they won’t wish to learn. Learning and teaching are opposite concepts, and should be treated as such. Learning is deep and profound. Teaching is a remedy which requires repeated dosages.
This message was greeted very positively wherever I went, which was very pleasing. Even better, when the four presidents of the constituent professional bodies making up the Joint Board of Moderators (the accreditation body for Civil, Structural, Transport and Highways Engineering) met, I was able to secure their support to embed creativity as a specific required learning outcome in UK UG degrees from now on. My colleague, Paul McCombie, presented the concept to the JBM Board on my behalf, to a very receptive audience. I definitely feel we are getting somewhere with this issue, and a few days ago an article was published by the Institution, which sums up my vision for where we should be heading as a profession.
If you are reading this and have any ambitions to be the president of your own professional body, then my advice is to JUST DO IT. It is a fabulous privilege, a tremendous honour, a brilliant showcase for the University of Bath, and a platform to make a real difference. I loved it.