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Since civilisation began engineering has been central to providing shelter, finding and producing food, and coordinating attack and defence during times of war. In the UK, the earliest formal recognition of the importance of engineers came with the founding of the Corps of Engineers in 1717. The formation of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1818 brought engineering recognition to civilian society. Society at the time associated civil engineering with the dramatic developments to their modern economy, bringing canals, bridges, lighthouses, ports and public health.
The significance of the 19th century railway economy led to creation of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1847, and the transformation in communications resulting from the use of electrical telegraphy led to the establishment of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1871.
The field of engineering continued to grow and become more specialised, which saw a rise in the number of societies and institutions. By the mid-1950s, a significant demand for a central body to set the standards for education and training and to represent the wider profession had arisen. This led to the creation of the Joint Council of Engineering Institutions, established in 1964, that was later known as the Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI).
The first Royal Commission to review the organisation and utilisation of the UK engineering profession was called following criticism of the CEI’s performance. The central recommendation to its 1980 report was that the Government should establish an authority to act as an “engine of change”. The authority’s members were to be appointed by Government “to advance education in, and to promote the science and practice of engineering for the public benefit and thereby to promote industry and commerce”. This effort aimed to promote engineering and establish uniform professional standards.
The outcome of the commission was the establishment of the Engineering Council in 1981, which was composed predominantly of qualified engineers alongside men and women connected with engineers in industry and around the world.
The Engineering Council successfully published Standards and Routes to Registration (SARTOR) in 1985 and established an auditing role to assess the ability of the professional engineering institutions to champion the standards for professional registration. However, the professional engineering institutions became increasingly dissatisfied with the unrepresentative nature of the Engineering Council's governing body and raised concerns about overlaps of responsibility and message, which led to the reform of the Council in 1995. The principle outcome was the creation of a fully representative Senate of 54 as a new governing body.
Concerns about the breadth of the Council’s activity led to a further review in 2001. In 2002 the Engineering Council was split into the Engineering Technology Board (now known as EngineeringUK) and the Engineering Council UK (now known as simply the Engineering Council). The detailed history of the Engineering Council 1982-2002 (Chronicle of Engineering Council) can be downloaded below.
Engineering UK is now responsible for the promotion of engineering while the Engineering Council is responsible for professional registration standards, which it overhauled in 2003. The first version of the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC) was published in December of that year.