The President of the Society provides leadership of the Council and of the Society in pursuit of its Objectives. The President holds a pivotal role at the Society upholding the values, and reputation of the Society as well as the interests of the members. The President is an Ambassador of the Society representing us at key engagements, influencing the global standing of the Society in furthering the advancement of aeronautical art, science and engineering.
The Society cannot wave a magic wand but to challenge these trends and to engage our many employer members in this debate is entirely within our remit."
Prof Chris Atkin CEng FRAeS
President's Message: April 2017
I begin April’s message as I closed in March: please take the time to read up about our candidates for the Council election and place your votes, if you have not done so already.
As well as the International and Membership Reviews which I discussed in the last two editions of AEROSPACE, I can report on a workshop held in January to explore the level of engagement between the RAeS and academia. Specific themes included education (both accreditation of courses and support to teaching), engagement with employers, learned output and outreach. As well as aiming to strengthen the relationship between the Society and my own constituency, I wanted to explore the notion that academic staff are the first professional role models which students encounter and, as such, have a strong influence – whether conscious or otherwise – on their perceptions about the relevance of the Society to their future careers. A good number of universities participated in the workshop. I think we gained a good understanding that, apart from our contribution to the quality assurance of degree courses, the awareness within academia, of what the RAeS is and does, could and should be much greater. The Society should do more to help academics in our sector see themselves as aerospace professionals; and we should do more, through our Branch network and Corporate Partner Scheme, to help bridge the divide between students and employers.
‘Divide’ may seem a strong word but I think that industry has not adapted well to the deregulation of the HE sector in the UK. The far greater number of engineering courses and graduates in recent times does not seem to have helped employers, who regularly report a shortage of appropriately skilled recruits (not exclusively graduates, of course). The idea of employers being the ‘customers’ of universities was perhaps never strongly rooted but it is clear that students have now attained that status. The financial commitment to higher education has shifted from the state to the individual, while the sponsorship of students by industry, which could have eased this burden, is no longer common. The cost of academic failure is thus deemed unacceptable: universities’ teaching quality is increasingly being measured by graduation rates, while student surveys have moved on from questions about teaching quality and levels of academic support to whether marking is fair and whether assessments are transparent (just like that design problem you’re dealing with right now). As an academic from industry, who often pictures his charges working for former colleagues, I have mixed feelings about this business model and the effects of the associated performance metrics over the longer term.
At the same time, many employers seem to be moving towards online assessments (cognitive skills, etc) to down-select their job applicants. While I understand the problem faced by HR departments in filtering large numbers of applications, I wonder when it was that the 11+ IQ tests, from years ago, were deemed suitable filters for the world of employment? Have these new filtering tools been tested on existing staff with proven achievement records? My scepticism is reinforced by having this year met a number of young people who have been turned down by our industry as a result of these tests, despite decent academic qualifications and/or CVs which even include the Society’s own Schools Build-a-Plane Challenge. Moreover, if these assessments really are effective, then surely they should be used before aspiring engineers invest £40k in higher education?
The Society cannot wave a magic wand but to challenge these trends and to engage our many employer members in this debate is entirely within our remit. My hope is that our community can also provide more support to universities and other educators in shaping the competence and commitment of the next generation of aerospace professionals.
Prof Chris Atkin CEng FRAeS
The President's Biography
Chris Atkin was educated at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, and St John’s College, Cambridge. He read Engineering as an undergraduate, winning the Royal Aeronautical Society prize in 1986, and then studied for a PhD in transonic aerodynamics. In 1991 Chris joined British Aerospace Commercial Aircraft Ltd at Hatfield to work on boundary layer control. Chris relocated to BAe Woodford a year later, before joining the Defence Research Agency at Farnborough in 1994 where he continued to work on aircraft drag reduction in support of both industry and the Ministry of Defence. Chris was promoted to PSO in 1997 and, following the formation of QinetiQ plc, became a QinetiQ Fellow in 2003, eventually being appointed Technical Manager for Aerodynamics and Aeromechanical Systems. After a spell at QinetiQ Bedford, in 2008 Chris took up the chair in Aeronautical Engineering at City University London and, over the next five years, served first as department head and then Head of School, during which appointment he co-ordinated significant investment in the University’s engineering laboratory and workshop facilities. Returning to a more traditional academic role in 2013, Chris continues to focus his research on aircraft efficiency, with support from UK industry, the Aerospace Technology Institute, the UK Research Councils and the European Union. Chris has been a member of numerous national committees over the years and is presently a member of the Aerospace Growth Partnership Strategy Working Group. Chris attended his first lecture at the RAeS in his early teens and has been a Fellow of the Society since 2002. Chris was first elected to Council in 2010, helped to re-shape the governance of the Society in 2011 and was chair of the Professional Standards Board from 2012-2015. Chris has also served on the Registration Standards Committee of the Engineering Council, contributing to the recent review of UK-SPEC. Chris supports the Bedford branch of the Society.