Possible extinction in the UK is on the horizon with threats to our University courses. Whilst the EG50 conference at the beginning of July celebrated 50 years of the University of Portsmouth’s Engineering Geology (EG) and Geotechnics course alongside the Geological Society’s half century birthday of their OJEG publication there was much discussion about the future; the pressures on Universities (who are now run as multi million pound businesses) and the problem of attracting sufficient numbers of new students each year. A number of speakers, who were former students of the University of Portsmouth EG course, commented how ” it was by chance” they had found their way on to the degree in the first case. A Business Model based on “chance” is hardly a sustainable strategy when competing with a generation enamoured by computing and technology. And yet the number of former students who have gone on to have successful careers, reaching positions of influence with the industry and more importantly stayed within the industry is substantial, indicating that this is an area of work offering significant job satisfaction.
One of our problems is we are too self -effacing, and most of our work is invisible. It lies hidden beneath the ground or fades into the background of the natural environment, unless of course there is a visible failure. Interestingly, it has been the failures caused by construction involving soils and rocks that led in some ways to the birth of engineering geology, where slope and tip failures highlighted the need to bring the skills of geology and engineering together. The inherent variability of natural materials making engineering decisions more challenging. Yet, how many of the current major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail, Thames Tideway, HS2 would be able to go ahead safely and successfully without this skill set. Furthermore, as we look forward to then challenges that face the world such as extreme weather events causing flooding, erosion, ground collapse, earthquakes affecting the built environment and the constant demand for earth’s resources the demand for such skills are not going to become less. The question being asked at EG50 is are we doing enough to help UK plc understand the value of our industry? Probably not, could we do more definitely.
Now is the time to act. We all need to be raising the profile of what we do – the shard may be an iconic building but where would it be without foundations where the predictable concrete/steel sub-structure meets the unpredictable world of soil and rock! Whilst winning industry awards showcases our exceptional work in our respective fields this largely goes unnoticed by the public. So, we need to be looking for ways that raise the profile of our industry by aligning and creating public interest. Perhaps one obvious solution is to look to the Geological Society of London (GSL) who as a membership based charity organisation is according to their bylaws is instituted for the purpose of “investigating the Mineral structure of the Earth”. This remit is discharged by: