Newly formed Engineering Council, Sri Lanka: | Sunday Observer

Newly formed Engineering Council, Sri Lanka:

5 July, 2020

The Engineering Council Sri Lanka (ECSL) Act was rushed through and passed in Parliament without consulting all the stakeholders impacted by it.

Major contractors who employ a large number of engineering professionals were been adequately consulted. Many other technical grades too are impacted by this Act.

Through this article, the writer strives to inform the public about the new Act and how it impacts engineering practice in Sri Lanka.

History of engineering institutions in Sri Lanka

Engineering Associations started with the setting up of the Engineering Association of Ceylon in Anuradhapura by British engineers in 1906. This was replaced by the Institution of Engineers of Ceylon in 1956 and was incorporated in Parliament in 1968. Amendment to this Act came into effect by Act No. 03 in 1996, to change its name to Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL).

In 1977, Engineering Diploma holders formed their first Association, ‘All Ceylon Engineering Diplomates Association (ACEDA)’. ACEDA was transformed into a professional body in 1992, through the Parliamentary Act No. 64 of 1992 as the Institute of Engineering Diplomates, Sri Lanka (IEDSL). In 2000, the IEDSL was renamed as Institute of Incorporated Engineers, Sri Lanka (IIESL) under Act No. 11 of 2000.

After lengthy negotiations with IIESL, IESL in 2017 got a new Act passed in parliament, Act No. 4 of 2017, to set up the Engineering Council, Sri Lanka (ECSL).

Many including members of IESL and IIESL, students in engineering, other stakeholder groups who will be directly influenced by this statute and the public may not be fully aware what the ECSL is and its effects on society. This article tries to explain the Engineering Council Act No. 4 of 2017 and how it influences the dreams and livelihoods of a large section of our population.

Why did certain sections of IESL push for ECSL?

Previously the ‘Eng’ title in front of their names was only allowed to be used by engineering graduates and Chartered Engineers.

The higher engineering diploma holders (and members of IEDSL) couldn’t use this title.

With the incorporation of IIESL, the engineering diploma holder who obtained IIESL corporate membership started using the title ‘Eng’. They also included IIESL corporate membership as sufficient qualification to gain admission to Master’s Degree programs and MBAs conducted by State universities. IIESL started gaining wide recognition and this had upset some sections of the IESL hierarchy.

The Government between 2010 and 2015 liberalised engineering education and authorised several non-state institutions and the Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (KDU) to conduct four-year engineering degree programs with the approval of University Grants Commission.

When these institutions applied for accreditation, IESL appointed committees to check on their facilities and course curriculum to assess their competencies in awarding four-year engineering degrees. Some of these committees recommended conditional recognition for certain four-year fee-levying engineering degree programs, but the IESL’s Accreditation Committee and the Council using majority vote turned down such recommendations.

As one senior professor said, “Facilities at some of these newly formed engineering faculties are better than or equal to the facilities in the engineering faculties of Peradeniya and Katubedda at their inception, during the time we were in the university as undergraduates.” He said that the IESL should provide guidance to such institutions to develop like the way engineering faculties of the state universities have developed over the years. The IESL has given conditional recognition to the engineering faculties of the Jaffna and Olluvil State Universities, but their yardstick in measuring the fee levying degree programs, some say, has an element of discrimination.

During the last government, the IESL with the support of a senior minister achieved its goal of setting up an Engineering Council. With a notice in a English weekend newspaper of December 16, 2018, the public was notified by the Chairman of ECSL that the Engineering Council had been operational since August 2018.

Will the ECSL impose negative impact upon the future growth of the engineering profession with the emphasis on future limitations of engineering diplomates, engineering graduates of other fee levying degree awarding institutions and other engineering trades or will it be an independent regulatory authority which will look into the grievances of the engineering practitioners and resolve their issues with fairness?

Restrictions imposed by the ECSL in the practice of engineering profession in Sri Lanka:

According to the Engineering Council, Sri Lanka Act No. 4 of 2017:

1. No engineering practitioner shall engage in the practice of the engineering profession unless such practitioner is registered with the ECSL.

2. Any engineering practitioner who contravenes the provisions of this Act commits an offence.

3. Every person who contravenes any of the provisions of this Act or any other regulations made thereunder, shall on conviction after a summary trial before a Magistrate be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or to a fine not exceeding Rs. 100,000 or to both fine and imprisonment. 4. This law applies to companies who employ engineering practitioners.

Can the ECSL Council with the majority voting power of the members of IESL be fair and independent to the other stakeholders of the engineering practice?

The table shows the dominance of the ECSL Council by IESL members. When such dominance by one institution is obvious it is questionable whether ECSL can give fair decisions in a situation where the interests of members of IESL conflict with the interests of other professional institutions and other stakeholder groups impacted by the ECSL Act.

In summary, the Council is represented by a minimum eleven Chartered Engineers (members of IESL or has strong affiliation to IESL) and four Incorporated Engineers (members of IIESL) and one representing Engineering Technicians. The majority of the IESL corporate membership comprises engineers working in the state sector. Within the past ten years they have been lobbying to block all other routes other than the engineering degrees of the state universities and other recognised foreign universities to gain recognition for Associate Membership of IESL.

The ECSL Act defines the categorisation of registration of Engineering Practitioners under the following abbreviated designations:

(a) Chartered Engineer (CEng) (b) Associate Engineer (AEng) (c) Affiliate Engineer (AflEng) (d) Incorporated Engineer (IEng) (e) Engineering Diplomate (EngDip) (f) Engineering Technician (EngTec)

Although the above categories are based on the qualifications acquired by individuals, the Act does not differentiate the roles, responsibilities and code of ethics of different categories.

The categorisation is only based on a person’s acquired qualifications without giving any due consideration to the skills and talent required in different specialties of engineering practice. It also does not relate to different engineering tasks performed by engineers, engineering assistants, technical officers and other technical grades at construction sites.

The ECSL is yet to prepare rules and regulations pertaining to different categories of membership and other matters related to the practice of engineering in Sri Lanka. The public and the people who are impacted by the ECSL Act are eagerly waiting to see how ECSL will perform this task and to what level of fairness to other stakeholders who are not the members of IESL or IIESL.

The ECSL has to consult all the people affected by this Act including the major contractors, other fee levying engineering degree awarding institutions and the broad spectrum of technicians practicing different engineering tasks.

They should not gazette such rules and regulations without the consensus of all those who are affected and will be aggrieved if their concerns are not addressed in this process.

There should be an alternative path to obtain Associate Engineer status

The Engineering Council of UK (ECUK), one of the most respected organisations in the world, coordinates the development and harmonisation of a long list of professional engineering institutions in the UK in a very sensible manner.

Their membership spans across several countries.

The ECUK has throughout history provided the opportunity and created a path for any person after acquiring a basic education in science stream to reach Chartered Engineer status through the City & Guilds from levels 1 to 7. Anyone who has the determination and intellectual capacity could reach the higher levels of the engineering profession.

Such opportunity has not been restricted, as in our present situation created by the IESL, that only those who pass the Advanced Level Examination and enter State sponsored engineering faculties, subject to the scheme that the student gets different weightage based on the district where he sits the examination. There are so many children who lose the opportunity to enter university by a narrow margin. They should be given alternative opportunities to become engineers.

Other than the fee-levying four-year degree awarding institutions (at present IESL has blocked its graduates from practicing engineering as per the category definitions of ECSL), the Open University is the only institution which creates a path for students who miss the opportunity at the Advanced Levels, and other higher engineering diploma holders to acquire engineering degrees.

The alternative route for such students who pass the Advanced Level exmination were available previously to become Associate Engineers of IESL, having followed a three-part examination process conducted by IESL. This system was abolished in 2011 and a new institution under IESL was set up as the College of Engineering. This too was abolished in 2017 due to the pressure from a mafia of those who oppose fee-levying higher education in the IESL.The ECSL needs to renegotiate with the IESL to re-establish the three-part examination process or set up a completely different route similar to that followed by ECUK to facilitate entry to Affiliate Engineer and Associate Engineer categories of ECSL.

Set up a fair basis in the process of accreditation of engineering degree and diploma programs

The accreditation and recognition process of fee-levying engineering degree programs are done by the Education Committee of the IESL, presumably using different yardsticks for fee-levying degree programs and State sponsored degree programs. There is a serious injustice being committed in this process.

The ECSL can lead the accreditation and recognition process of all professional engineering degree and diploma awarding institutions which come under the purview of ECSL. Independent committees representing different stakeholder groups can be appointed by ECSL to supervise the accreditation process.

The newly formed Engineering Council, Sri Lanka will have the opportunity to prove its independence and fairness to all stakeholders impacted by the ECSL Act and be the guardian and protector of the engineering profession and not be its predator.

The writer is a Chartered Engineer holding a senior managerial position in the construction industry.