Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by The Royal Academy of Engineering, The Institution of Civil Engineers, and Engineers Against Poverty (Int Dev 29)

1. The Africa-UK Engineering for Development Partnership (A-UK Partnership)

This response has been prepared by The Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of the A-UK Partnership, which brings together the UK and African engineering communities in a capacity building partnership. This response focuses on the experience of the key UK stakeholders involved in the A-UK Partnership: the Institution of Civil Engineers, Engineers Against Poverty and The Royal Academy of Engineering.

ICE, EAP and the Academy have all interacted with DFID over a period of several years. Whilst historically those interactions have taken place on a bilateral basis, over recent years and particularly since the establishment of the A-UK Partnership in 2008, the three organisations have sought to engage collectively with DFID, recognising the need for the UK engineering community to work in a joined-up fashion both with partners in developing countries and with other organisations in the field of international development.

It should be noted that ICE, EAP and the Academy have strong links to many other organisations with a stake in engineering and international development, including Engineers Without Borders, RedR, Association for Black Engineers (UK), other science and engineering professional bodies, and most of the major engineering companies with relevant activities. In a 2008 report by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, ‘Engineering: Turning Ideas into Reality’, the committee recommended that the Academy should be ‘the first port of call for engineering advice’. [1] The Academy is committed to fulfilling its role in providing a coherent voice for the engineering community and is keen to work with DFID in this capacity.

2. Engineering and international development

Engineering has a necessary and central role to play in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and DFID needs to recognise this by building a prominent engineering element into its programmes. Engineering is critical to the development of, and provision of access to, new medical interventions, safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, sustainable energy generation technologies and other public services. Globally more than 2bn people lack access to safe drinking water, 2.5bn don’t have toilets or access to basic sanitation, while 2.3bn have no reliable source of energy. [2] The World Food Programme estimates that up to half of global hunger could be due to transportation and storage problems. [3] Through the provision of basic infrastructure, engineering provides the means to tackle these issues.

Engineering is also a key enabler of wealth creation, both underpinning the innovation process and being necessary for building the infrastructure (physical and virtual) required for enterprises, supply chains and markets to function. Through these actions and, for example, its key role in manufacturing, engineering also provides a route to increased employment rates in developing countries.

Efforts to build engineering capacity could improve the sustainability of all DFID interventions by helping communities to develop the necessary skills and institutions to develop their economies, alleviate poverty and build political stability. Such efforts should be focussed on local and regional needs and should include building the capacity of professional, educational and governmental institutions as well as on developing the skills of individuals within the engineering sector.

3. UK Government support for scientific capacity building

Current DFID policy on scientific capacity building appears to be tightly focussed on research support. Increased funding for research within the DFID budget has been very welcome, however DFID could have more impact if it also funded scientific and engineering capacity building activities within professional, educational and governmental institutions. Educational institutions need to be able to provide students with skills that are relevant to local industry needs whilst governmental bodies must develop an understanding of the importance of engineering and must be able to engage effectively with the engineering community. Professional institutions require the capacity to develop and enforce professional qualifications [4] , to recognise education courses [5] , to support policy makers by providing expert advice and to promote engagement between government, industry, academia and civil society.

As engineering straddles DFID policy on both science and infrastructure, the lack of an up-to-date infrastructure strategy must significantly hamper progress for DFID programmes to build engineering capacity. The latest infrastructure strategy, Making Connections: Infrastructure for Poverty Reduction, was published in 2002 and a proposed new strategy in 2008 never materialised. A new infrastructure strategy is urgently needed in order to ensure that DFID policy is informed by changes that have occurred over the last decade, such as the growing importance of digital infrastructure to development.

4. Engaging within DFID on engineering capacity building

The engineering cadre within DFID appears to be of limited size, disconnected internally and not sufficiently well-connected with the UK engineering community. This limits DFID’s potential to harness the strengths of UK industry and academia for improving development outcomes as well as making it difficult for external stakeholders to engage with DFID on engineering issues.

Our own experiences of attempting to engage with DFID have been frustrating at times. Continual restructuring within DFID means that responsibility for projects changes frequently. This results in a lack of responsibility and continuity and makes it difficult for external stakeholders such as ourselves to engage effectively.

In many cases there appears to be a disconnection between DFID London HQ and country offices. In all but one case (in Tanzania) we have found it very difficult to identify appropriate contacts in country offices and met reluctance from those offices to engage with us. In some cases we were told that they aid the country through budget support and are therefore not interested in particular sectors but it would no doubt be beneficial for those offices to maintain their knowledge of development activities in all the sectors that they are supporting.

The drive for increased focus on evidence-based policy making by the previous and current DCSAs is very welcome. The Partnership is also supportive of the systematic reviews that the DCSA has initiated, although a more demand-led approach in which the intended consumers of the knowledge generated are more closely involved in the framing of questions could help to improve the impact of the reviews.

The Royal Academy of Engineering, The Institution of Civil Engineers, and Engineers Against Poverty

December 2011


[2] Ali H et al. ‘ Engineering a Better World’: Conclusions from the Commonwealth Engineering Council and Institution of Civil Engineers 2010 Commonwealth Week Conference p3

[3] Interview with Josette Sheeran, Executive Director, UN World Food Programme:

[4] Lawless . ‘Numbers and Needs ’: Addressing Imbalances in the Civil Engineering Profession. 2005

[5] Alutu & Iruansi. ‘Education and Development of the Structural Engineer in Nigeria: Some Gaps in the System’. 2008

Prepared 22nd December 2011