Guest blog by Peter M Hills  DipEE MSc CEng MIET Contact: petermhills@hotmail.com

Throughout academia and industry there are many hundreds, maybe thousands, of engineers having the DipEE qualification. What is it and how was it achieved?

DipEE is an ancient but very relevant qualification. It is held by senior members of the electrical engineering profession who completed their studies in the 1960’s and early 1970’s via technical colleges or polytechnics – in other words the non-university route. Those were the days when tertiary education was free for the student, in many cases paid for by an employer via a student or graduate apprenticeship scheme.

Given that University education was free for the student and grants were available from government for living and accommodation expenses, why did many would-be engineers not take up the offer? The answer probably lies in the social conditions and attitudes that prevailed after the second world war. The country was still in recovery mode. Few ordinary families had young people going to University, whereas now that is the norm rather than the exception.

In my own case, I did not get along with my parents. They lived in South East London’s posh Blackheath, but on the rough and tough Cator council estate. I was naturally inquisitive but those around me were not. I wanted to be an engineer, but I also had to get away. I left Blackheath after ‘O’ Levels aged 17 and accepted a 5-year student apprenticeship with the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB). I had always felt that I could make my way in education, employment and life just as well via the apprenticeship route as if I had stayed on at school, taken ‘A’ Levels and gone to University.

The CEGB scheme could not be faulted. The first year (1962/3) was spent at their residential training establishment ‘Ashcroft’ in Southwick, near Portslade, Brighton. Sounds like a Borstal I know, but it was 12 months of learning practical skills at the Brighton ‘B’ power station workshops. Use of lathes, screw-cutting, shaping machines, milling, gear-cutting, grinding, welding, electrical installations, workshop technology, engineering drawing – the list went on. All near the beach, overlooking the harbour. We went to Worthing Technical college one day and one evening each week for the first year of an Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) in electrical engineering.

After the first year, student apprentices were seconded to power stations around the country. I did the second year ONC at Woolwich Polytechnic and then transferred to a full-time two-year HND course. It was a ‘sandwich’ arrangement where full-time study was followed by one term of continued practical training in industry.

By then I had become aware of the Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI) and the term ‘Chartered Engineer’, together with its post-nominal CEng introduced in 1965 after the CEI was granted its Royal Charter.  An HND would not meet the academic standards for CEng. At that time the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), of which I was then an associate member, ran their own examinations called IEE Parts 1, 2 and 3. An HND would exempt me from Parts 1 and 2 but I would have to study full-time for another year and then take the IEE Part 3 examination.

The CEGB agreed to sponsor me for an additional year, 6 years in total. I found that course exceptionally challenging, plus I knew it was going to be externally assessed – unlike the HND. Students could be examined on any aspect of an exceptionally wide syllabus. Even today, I still have the occasional nightmare and cold sweat about that exam – it was that difficult.

I passed the IEE Part 3 examination and consequently am allowed use the post-nominal DipEE. (Diploma in Electrical Engineering). So, there we have it – all those who passed the IEE Part 3 examination could put DipEE after their name. And with appropriate peer-reviewed experience at senior level, could become Chartered Engineers.

Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI) Examinations

The last IEE Part 3 examination was held in 1970. It was superseded by the CEI Part 1 and Part 2 academic tests. Part 2 was set at BSc Honours level. Anyone who passed IEE Part 3, also at BSc Honours standard, and became a corporate member of the IEE before 1974 would be automatically registered as a Chartered Engineer.

I took IEE Part 3 in 1968. I did quite well and persuaded the Science Research Council and Sperry Gyroscope in Bracknell to sponsor me for an MSc in Systems and Control Engineering at the University of Surrey. DipEE met the entry requirements for the MSc. It was full-time study for 9 months followed by a 3-month dissertation. At the end of that year I had been working and studying for 7 years – one year more than if I had stayed on at school, done ‘A’ Levels, completed a 3-year BSc (Hons) and then the MSc.

It was now 1969. Having undergone all that training and education, was I looking forward a life in engineering? Absolutely yes. That year, of all years, could not have been more inspiring:

NASA landed two men on the moon and returned them alive and in one piece

Concorde had its maiden flight

The Boeing 747 Jumbo had its maiden flight

The British Harrier GR-1 jump-jet entered service with the RAF

Did I regret going down the apprenticeship route? Absolutely not. I gained an invaluable set of experiences in those years – not just in engineering technologies but in people skills. It is the latter that I would come to value most. I learnt to talk to everyone from bin-men to Brigadiers. Plus of course I had been paid a salary the whole time. Modest in today’s terms but enough to live an independent life and quickly get to understand the need for financial probity.

Modern Training Schemes – The Engineering Council

The Engineering Council (EC) was born in 1981 after a Royal Commission was established to review the UK engineering profession – following criticism of the CEI’s performance. The CEI Part 1 and 2 examinations were administered by the new body until 2001, when responsibility was assigned to City and Guilds of London (C&G). Availability of those CEI examinations ceased in 2011.

In theory, that was the death knell of part-time or work-based study for those wanting to become professional engineers with CEng as a terminal qualification. However, C&G then introduced their Engineering (Graduate and Postgraduate) Diploma (9210). Good news you might think but the EC have not, as a body, accepted the C&G 9210 series of courses as a route to registration. Back to square one.

However, the three biggest engineering institutions, the IET, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) have recently decided to work with C&G to ensure the latter’s qualifications are aligned with the registration requirements for Incorporated Engineer and Chartered Engineer.

So as long as a candidate’s aim is to join one of those three institutions, it is not necessary therefore to get a University Degree in order to meet the academic standards for registration. As in my own case there are a whole host of reasons, not just financial, why going to University to study engineering may not be possible. To shut off the part-time, work-based route to professional registration would be extremely unfair, would limit social mobility and would prevent a whole class of talented people from contributing to Britain’s engineering expertise. Thank goodness the three main engineering institutions see sense.

Note:  There is some uncertainty whether associate members of the IEE who passed their CEI Part 2 examination prior to the year 2001 could also use DipEE. They deserved to – that examination was externally assessed just like IEE Part 3 and was, I understand exceptionally difficult, resulting in a lower success rate.