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Status of Engineers

What is the Engineering Council's policy on the status of engineers?

The status of engineers has always been a controversial subject. During 2011 the Board of the Engineering Council established a working group to consider issues relating to the status and title of engineers, which hadn’t been formally addressed since the ETB’s Licensing Review in 2003. The resulting policy position statement, agreed by the Board in March 2012, is below. 

The word Engineer and the Engineering Council’s professional titles

Commonplace use of the word engineer in our language has evolved over many centuries. Hence anyone in the UK may describe themselves as an engineer. Seeking to regulate or legislate on the use of a now common term is recognised by the Engineering Council as totally impractical. However, the professional titles of Engineering Technician (EngTech), Incorporated Engineer (IEng), Chartered Engineer (CEng) and ICT Technician (ICTTech) may only be used by those who have been granted these titles through registration with the Engineering Council.

These titles attest to the professional competence of their holders and their commitment to professional ethics and practice. They are only awarded to those who can demonstrate, through a process of peer assessment, that they meet the required standards. The Engineering Council, with the professional engineering institutions, keeps these standards under constant review to ensure that they remain valid and are clearly defined. Taken together, these features of our regulatory system provide assurance, serve to protect the public and give confidence to society as a whole. It is upon such recognition that the status of professional engineers and technicians must rest.

These professional titles are fully protected under law by means of the Engineering Council’s Royal Charter and Bye-laws; further legislation is thus unnecessary. In order to protect these titles action is taken through the courts against their unauthorised use. More generally, as a benchmark standard, the titles have a world-wide currency.

Why is there no restriction on who can call themselves an engineer in the UK?

The words engineer and engineering have both been in common use for centuries in the UK. Neither is legally defined and in everyday language the term engineer is very often taken to mean anyone who is in some way associated with engineering, including the design, manufacture, maintenance or operation of a technical product or system.

Successive examinations of the subject by the profession and by Parliament have concluded that any attempt to restrict use of the term would have little prospect of success. Indeed, such an approach might be seen as simply meddling with language usage and could thus have a negative effect and alienate people for no good purpose. However, the specific titles that denote professional engineering competence are quite different; these are protected by law and their use is restricted.

The Engineering Council therefore concentrates on promoting awareness and understanding of its professional titles, which demonstrate the professional standing of their holders and which are protected by law.

Don’t other professions in the UK manage to protect their titles?

In the majority of cases, it is a very specific title that is protected, rather than a generic one. For example, anyone may call themselves an accountant or a surveyor, but only those who are entitled to do so may describe themselves as Chartered Accountants or Chartered Surveyors. Similarly there is no restriction on the use of the word lawyer, but the professional status of Solicitor, Barrister and Advocate are protected.

One obvious example of restrictions on the use of titles is found in the medical and healthcare professions. Those employed in this field are dealing directly with the care and welfare of individuals and as a result these professions are also regulated by government in a number of ways. These restrictions therefore are essentially for public protection, rather than to promote the status of the professions concerned.

Even where legislation is in place, such as the restrictions on the use of the title Architect established in the first half of the 20th Century, these are limited in scope and are essentially to regulate architectural practices. There is no restriction on the use by individuals of terms such as architectural designer, and anyone may offer architectural services.

Isn’t use of the term engineer restricted in other countries?

Although it is commonly assumed that the term is more regulated in mainland Europe, there is in fact a range of practice across different countries and surveys suggest that the UK approach is in the middle of the spectrum (Ref: Survey of regulation of the Engineering Profession in Europe in Special FEANI news Oct 2005).

In English-speaking countries the same difficulties arise as in the UK. Even where there is legislation to protect title (e.g. Alberta, Queensland) this is usually not all-embracing and is not always supported by the courts. In those countries where there is regulation, linguistic differences may mean that it is possible to restrict use of a more specifically defined term such as Diplome-Ingenieur, or Professional Engineer. This is effectively the same protection as EngTech, IEng, CEng and ICTTech have here in the UK.

Shouldn’t the Engineering Council protect the status and interests of its registrants?

It does, through the award and protection of its professional titles. These titles are protected by law (stemming from the Engineering Council’s Royal Charter & Byelaws) and unauthorised use of them is pursued through the courts. The Engineering Council and its licensed professional engineering institutions are vigilant in this matter. It follows that it is incumbent upon individual registrants to bring all suspected cases of misuse to the notification of their respective institutions.

What status do titles such as Chartered Engineer have in Europe?

Please see our European Recognition page​ for further information.

Shouldn’t there be some restriction on who can practise engineering?

Engineering is continually evolving and by its nature embraces innovation. Accordingly, the engineering profession has always recognised and encouraged this approach. Efforts to restrict its practice would go against this ethos and risk stifling innovation, and would therefore be likely to be seen as anti-competitive and unjustified.

However, there are quite correctly restrictions on practice in some safety-critical areas, such as dam engineering, aircraft maintenance, and railway signalling, where specialist registers exist. The Engineering Council would support the extension of specialist registration to other areas when justified.

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