Conversation with Prof. Faustin Ondore (PhD), a UK Chartered Engineer and Fellow of Institution of Mechanical Engineers (FIMechE) & Member of Royal Aeronautical Society (MRAeS) both of UK. He is the current Chairman of the Department of Aerospace and Aviation Engineering at The Technical University of Kenya (TUK).
Hallo Prof. Ondore! Thank you for accepting to talk to me, especially on issues that are affecting our profession – Engineering. I got questions galore; accreditation of engineering degree programs will be at the center of our conversation today. I know you that you were recently elected as Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in addition to your corporate membership of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Both are professional bodies licensed by the Engineering Council of United Kingdom (UK). I see this is quite different from how we carry out our professional business in Kenya; I have also realized that you haven’t pursued a local registration with the Engineers Board of Kenya.
You know Booker, engineering is global, it’s a science-based discipline, so we can’t domesticate it, and there is no such a thing as Kenyan Engineering or even British Engineering. The general engineering principles and practices are global, and what may change are local application methods and techniques. But we must remember that products and services that are developed by engineers are used across the globe. The standards, in essence, must therefore remain international. Yes, international recognition and extant registration are significant but the key consideration is the capability and responsibility that are implied in that registration.
It would interest you how some of these bodies are highly professional, even the clarity in which the professional bodies relate with the regulator, if for example you take a case of the United Kingdom, there is the umbrella body as the regulator, the Engineering Council of UK. The EC licenses the discipline based professional bodies such as Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), etc. Each professional body is mandated to lead and support its members in the professional development process which can result in the recommendation for registration by the EC. Thus the EC’s role is that of a regulator which ensures the minimum standards are met and hence professional qualities and guaranteed. The professional bodies are focused to professional development of their members, amongst other functions.
I can see some similarities with our local system; however one notable difference is that in Kenya all the sub disciplines in engineering say civil, mechanical, electrical are all under the Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) while the regulatory roles are with the Engineers Board of Kenya. This could be an undoing in itself.
Look, when you talk of engineering practice, then you have the spectrum of disciplines not just at the professional engineers’ level but also at engineering technologist and technician levels. Engineering practice involves all these levels in direct proportion to size of the project size/complexity and hence team size. The common practice in other countries, especially within the Commonwealth, is that each engineering discipline is represented by its professional body which established and regulated by law. The professional bodies are required to promote professionalism, implement appropriate by-laws that are used towards compliance with the relevant national legislation.
Two key functions of professional bodies are management of national engineering register and accreditation of programmes. The components of accreditation are the accreditation of academic programmes and the accreditation of professional development programmes operated by companies and government organizations.
Regarding the role IEK (which is essentially a private professional club) in relation with EBK (a public organisation), I am not sure how the functions of both are meant to be integrated and towards which specific goals.
You mean to say that the UK professional bodies have the powers to admit you to the national engineers register or strike you off it?
Yes, they recommend registration of Chartered Engineers, Incorporated Engineers and Engineering Technicians by the EC and where appropriate removal, all in accordance with the by-laws and pertaining regulations for entry into the register and retention in that register. For example the Royal Aeronautical Society will be responsible for ensuring compliance with aeronautical engineering regulations and, on behalf of the Engineering Council it recommends entry into and if necessary, removal from it.
How is it possible that you are a member of two professional bodies, RAeS and IMechE?
Exactly. This is very common since the disciplines of aeronautical engineering and mechanical engineering have a wide base of synergy. Commonality is especially evidence in such areas of structures, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, vibrations and associated applications.
Talking of accreditation of academic engineering programmes, why international accreditation? How does it relate to our national one?
The real issue is how the national accreditation process relates to the international quality bench-mark system. Because of its public safety aspect, the international accreditation is needed to ensure that potential engineering professionals receive the required sound education and training that meet agreed standards, thereby providing a sound engineering educational foundation upon which underpins professional development towards eventual registration. This is the only method for assuring quality standards in engineering practice.
There exist a number of international agreements on the accreditation of engineering degree programmes. The Washington Accord, signed in 1989, is an international agreement among bodies responsible for accrediting engineering degree programs. It recognizes the substantial equivalency of programs accredited by those bodies and recommends that graduates of programs accredited by any of the signatory bodies be recognized by the other bodies as having met the academic requirements for entry to the practice of engineering. The others are Sydney Accord (Incorporated Engineer or Technologist) and Dublin Accord (Engineering Technician). The accords are implemented on the bases of substantial equivalence amongst the programmes.
The countries which are signatories to the accords are committed to operating engineering academic programmes whose contents and procedures are internationally established
If an engineering programme is internationally accredited, it is listed in the relevant under the appropriate accord. If it was to accredit potential engineers, who could become chartered, then it would be listed and if you go to the Washington accord website, you will find all programs published there. For example, the Technical University of Kenya is seeking international accreditation of its aeronautical engineering programme even as it pursues accreditation by the Engineers Board of Kenya. The aim is to improve the rate of employability of its graduates within the global aviation industry. In this regard, discussions have already been initiated with both the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
You asked how this relates to Kenya. You should refer to EBK for the details of plans (if these exist) for participation on the international engineering degree accreditation system.
Do you see the Royal Aeronautical Society making an accreditation visit to TUK? What will the process be like?
During the discussions referred to earlier, both the RAeS (and IMechE) have provided the detailed guidelines for accreditation which includes a visit at some point. The IMechE have recently provided a very positive feedback from their independent reviewers of the TUK programme. It is anticipated that if all goes well a joint visit should occur about June 2017.IMechE reviewers’ “first impression’ of TUK’s Aeronautical Engineering programme is that this course would be a strong candidate for accreditation. The structure seems logical and thorough, and to the correct level. Further, the middle years of the programme seem to be traditional and thorough and the breadth of modules is wider than we would normally see in a UK degree”.
Once the assessment is completed, what is next?
In both professional bodies, each Accreditation Committee will review the information collected from professional academic programme reviewers, interviews with university administrators and academic staff and students, and any other significant inputs before recommending that an accreditation be granted.
This would be a temporary accreditation?
No, it is called provisional accreditation. This has been the practice in new programmes where there is no graduating cohort yet. In the case of the TUK programme it would be a full accreditation.
Remember you had told me that it will take four years at least to have any accreditation complete right?
No. Let’s first get the context right. If you are starting a five year course, they give you initial accreditation at year two based on the initial assessments at year one and two. Initial accreditation of a shorter duration, say two years may be granted to a new programme.
How does international and local professional registration of engineers compare?
Now, it is rather obvious and easy to make that judgment. First, you must remember that the purpose of professional registration of engineering is to protect public safety and interest by authorizing only competent engineering professionals with proven competence onto the national register. In Kenya, and from the EBK regulations, one can be registered after only 3 years registered as a professional engineer after graduation. Indeed I have seen a statement to the effect that this can be further reduced to two and a half years in the future, if certain conditions are met. In my view, the most concerning aspect of these regulations is the lack of clarity on competence attainable before registration can be awarded. Also, there isn’t any process of post-graduate training and practice in the development phase to ensure that the requisite competencies are progressively attained towards registration. Registration of individuals without proof of professional competence is highly dangerous. Remember the ever collapsing buildings and bridges, and traffic congestion in cities and other urban centers and their environs.
The process should be considered mainly on the competency based other than length of employment after graduation. In the competency based system, you need to generate evidence on successful and increasing capability development. The post-graduation education and industry based experience should be ideally anchored within a clear Initial Professional Development Scheme with appropriate industry mentorship and supporting employers’ line management direction. In addition to engineering competencies, one should also exhibit developments at the very least, in areas of soft skills such as leadership in team work, communication, and integrity and project management.
Hence on an increasing fashion, in year one, one might have attained certain competencies and you have some measure of responsibilities. Year two, assuming you are working on other projects and may have assumed greater responsibilities and autonomy; year three one may be taking more responsibilities in terms of budgetary responsibility, you start from HR (Human Resource), taking charge of other engineering experts who may be working with different parts of the organisation. It is now clear that you will have a full autonomy of running a project on your own before end of say five years.
It is expected that development to a level of engineering autonomy to a professional level will take, at the very minimum, a period of just over four years. In practice it usually takes much longer due to lack of availability of projects with suitable development opportunities. It is quite usual to find applicants not being to register until the sixth to eight years after graduation. This is indicative of the process and development period required for engineering training and experience internationally.
Even though EBK pegs a time line, it will be good to note that they will require proof that you have worked and executed successful engineering project under a professional engineer.
Well in that case it is very good to note statements of registration requirements. Personally, my concern is that there is no clear exposition on competency objectives, procedures and tools. Consequently, it is unclear how one is judged to be suitable for entry onto the professional engineering register. These deficiencies, in addition to other handicaps already mentioned in this discussion such as the apparent lack of transparency, can lead to registration of unsuitable candidates as professional engineers. As I mentioned earlier, we have examples of, but not limited to collapsing buildings and bridges with potential engineering incompetency implications. The intent should be to elevate standards, not to undermine them.
Still, from the pure professional perspective, there is need to focus also on professional conduct and integrity. Corrupt practices could never be rewarded by registration. For example, dangerous building designs and incompetent construction methods are a sure way to collapsing buildings. The other essential is an individual’s total commitment to continuous professional development, which in short means a practitioner’s capability enhancement in all respects.
You have mentioned the collapsed bridges and buildings in Kenya but we have seen that these buildings or bridges that are actually collapsing are not designed by engineers; it’s the rogue developers who are trying to cut corners and would like to cut cost at the expense of public safety.
That is very interesting, why are there no engineers involved? If we don’t have sufficient engineering involvement and hence lack of clout and influence, and bridges falling and killing people. Then I think the problem is much more serious. But if in one sense, we don’t have engineering competencies to bear influence on building structural designs or construction, it is extremely urgent that standards and expert project implementation are reviewed. I think this aspect of protecting public safety is where the regulator could have a much greater influence. It will be rather obvious that the need for adopting and implementing international standards for engineering degree programme accreditation is equally urgent. Additionally, it is equally obvious that the regulation of the engineering industry, especially the registration of engineering professionals should be pegged to international procedures and best practices.
If you are to comment on our accreditation process here, what will be your words?
As suggested, let’s adopt international standards. For a start, I would love to see the national regulator EBK start the process of becoming a signatory to the applicable international agreements and protocols. We will have nothing to lose but all to gain.
The immediate benefit will be accreditation process that actually promotes a sound engineering education. Very sadly for the development of Kenyan engineering professionals is that engineering degree programmes have apparently been accredited without much evidence of laboratory/workshop inputs, for example. Even more seriously, in my view, is the process of hiring the so-called part-time adjunct academic staff that are funded by the applicant universities, but whose contribution to programme delivery is unclear. More seriously, there are indications that such adjunct staff includes members from EBK. Now, if this is true, the whole purpose of independent programme assessment for accreditation is fatally undermined, due to the obvious conflict of interest. Eventually, the main victims are the public safety and interest.
We have seen the Board insisting that those people who are lecturing engineers have to be professional registered engineers with the Board. We have also seen that the Commission for University Education insists that they should have a master’s degree or be a PhD holder but if you go to some universities, just professional engineers are allowed to lecture. Do we need PhD’s to be successful engineers?
No you do not need a particular post-graduate qualification to be successful professional engineering practitioner. And, there should be no confusion regarding the specific expert resource needs of the industry in comparison to academic-specific requirements. In all cases in industry and academia is a team of competent engineering professionals which typically involve contributions of the engineer, technologist and technician, from laboratory/workshop level to world-class research capability. In each case, the proportional respective numerical strengths will be reflective of the nature of the requirements.
At a recent forum, there was an indication that the government may not be keen in a public university engaging in the teaching certificate and diploma students because the universities should focus on high level teaching and research. Somebody came with an example from Korea and said that their country has a system that includes contributions from the lowest or workshop level to the very top under one umbrella. So you take like a television assembled in Korea by artisans, the technologists give their input. Top level researchers have actually researched on the production sciences needed for the very latest TV systems. Hence, all of these professionals work together. Actually, in short what you need is a composite system under one roof.
You can comment on the omission of technicians and technologists in the Engineers Act2011 this has led to having technicians and technologists’ board different from the engineers’ board. According to you, would it be better to have them amalgamated?
I do not know how this happened but the rather obvious fact is that if you are intent of developing the profession in the country, it will require them to be together. Engineering professional practice cannot be operated as an exclusive private members club. Public integration is the only way forward.
There is a worrying trend, I have seen university managements being held ransom by lecturers from different departments and would go to other institutions and be given the title of Associate Professor. In the last three years, I would say that we have had so many associate professors and some even went to other institutions and were recalled back to be given associate professors, is this not fraud?
This is not unexpected you recall I started by mentioning their lack of professional emphasis on staff development. If you develop those professionals, they will contribute effectively and attain higher responsibilities (and promotions) over time. But what you are saying is like a joke but the real loss is to the students. My view is that the engineering regulator EBK must insist on a proper budget for developing staff and facilities. Remember I was telling you about the adjunct professors, this is another demonstration of the same problem that there are people who can allegedly be paid a salary of 2 million just to boost up the list of academic staff in an institution. I think that this is particularly virulent form of academic fraud.
Did you mean fraud?
Yes, remember the saying- ‘garbage in garbage out’ and don’t expect anything better. In a recent report, Commission for Higher Education in Africa says that 52 per cent or about half of the graduates in the region aren’t fit for employment. That tells you that we have graduates that are not employable. It also shows that institutions which produce them might not have been the competent. It is not the fault of the graduates, they are just unfortunate victims. They were never exposed to, or educated on the needs of industry and those of the society at large. You are aware of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), why isn’t it calling itself a university? They are focused to solving mankind’s practical problems. I don’t know where America would be without MIT they could not have NASA because universities usually recruit MIT undergraduates who are in their second or third years. A typical MIT engineering under-graduate is more to be in a laboratory and involved in practical learning sessions that are focused to real life problems. Using this model our focus must be on production of goods and services by ensuring industrial participation a key part of the university programmes, and also imbedding university teaching programmes and research projects industrial production. I think that is why the German system is successful because they have technical focus on universities to the extent that typically, no professor is allowed to teach in a university without a continuous appropriate industry experience and vice versa. In this model, a choice of flexibility exists for exercising preference for industry experience (and careers) over purely academic pathway.
But all these people that we have entrusted with all these important tasks are always in international conferences. I would have thought they can impact on the university programmes.
Attitude is the problem. In Africa it is easy to see big man or woman mentality, and in this regard I wish we could see more of the attitudes of Indians, Chinese or Japanese where there is a clear focus to dealing with the problems of society, as opposed to excessive pomposity and worship of personal wealth, typically indicated by conspicuous consumption of plundered state resources. An Indian is much more patriotic and loyal to his or her communities, with very clear sense of service.
I think the success in Kenya is judged more on opulence
I would call it a failure. The fact that we have people living in expensive houses and driving expensive cars, and are producing very little (if any), to me that is a systematic failure. It also exists elsewhere outside Kenya.
Prof. Faustin Ondore
24 Oct 2016