The Washington Accord: Current Accreditation Issues
The Washington Accord is an agreement among accrediting bodies in numerous countries, governing mutual recognition of engineering education qualifications and accreditation of engineering programs. When the accord was initially signed in 1989, the signatories included accrediting bodies from the U.S. (EAC of ABET), Canada (Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board of Engineers Canada), the U.K. (Engineering Council UK), Ireland (Engineers Ireland), Australia (Engineers Australia), and New Zealand (Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand). It has expanded significantly in recent years and now consists of accrediting bodies from 15 countries, including Japan, Korea, and Russia, with five more holding provisional status. It is rapidly becoming the global agreement on engineering education qualifications and accreditation.
The Washington Accord signatories have established “Graduate Attributes and Professional Competencies” for engineers (latest version dated June 2009), and also for engineering technologists and technicians under the similar Dublin and Sydney Accords, respectively. These competencies are presented as guidelines and are not mandatory for adoption by all Accord signatories. The competencies are similar to the “outcomes” that form the core of ABET accreditation criteria in the U.S.
The Washington Accord graduate attributes include competencies that are not included in the current ABET criteria, including the following:
a. Project Management and Finance (Graduate Attribute Profile No. 11) – Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of engineering and management principles and apply these to one’s own work, as a member and leader in a team, to manage projects, and in multidisciplinary environments.
b. Environment and Sustainability (Graduate Attribute Profile No. 7) – Understand the impact of engineering solutions in societal and environmental contexts and demonstrate knowledge of and need for sustainable development.
c. Legal and Regulatory (Professional Competency Profile No. 7) – Meet all legal and regulatory requirements and protect public health and safety in the course of his or her activities.
The ABET “student outcomes” applicable to accreditation of engineering programs in the U.S. currently do not mention either project management or finance. Capability in these areas is necessary for the practice of engineering at a professional level (PE). The current ABET criteria mention the environment and sustainability, but only in a “such as” clause of eight constraints potentially applicable to design. And the current criteria do not mention legal and regulatory requirements, which apply uniquely in all engineering practice disciplines.
NSPE has advocated through its Position Statement No. 1752 that engineering accreditation criteria in the U.S. be modified to include professional practice capability in the areas of leadership, risk and uncertainty, project management (see item a. above), public policy (see item c.), business aspects of engineering (item a.), and sustainability (with more emphasis than at present, item b). Such changes would bring U.S. engineering accreditation into alignment with the recommended guidelines of the Washington Accord. We’re not there currently.
The common response from academia to suggestions that additional competencies are required to prepare engineers for engineering practice is that nothing else can fit into existing jam-packed curricula. We in the U.S. need a better answer than that in order to appropriately meet the challenges of preparing U.S. engineers to continue to compete and succeed in global practice.
There is another side to this coin.
Twenty years ago, the Washington Accord signatories included the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand—countries with shared cultures. At that time, de facto acceptance of a baccalaureate degree in engineering from a Washington Accord signatory country was not uncommon among U.S. PE boards. The Washington Accord has grown significantly, particularly in the past 10 years. That de facto acceptance by U.S. PE boards is far less common now than was the case 20 years ago, as engineering graduates from Washington Accord-recognized programs are required in most jurisdictions to obtain equivalency transcript reviews, in the same fashion as is required for graduates from non-ABET accredited, non-Washington Accord recognized programs. And, as long as all equivalency reviews for all graduates of Washington Accord-recognized programs do not meet the same transcript review requirements as for graduates of non-ABET accredited, non-Washington Accord recognized programs, that trend is likely to continue and proliferate. In the long run, ABET accreditation of individual programs, as is happening globally, may be required to accomplish that de facto acceptance in the U.S.
It is important to note that the Washington Accord is an educational accord with a focus on the quality of engineering programs. The Engineers Mobility Forum (EMF) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Engineer program (APEC Engineer) are agreements that focus on the qualifications, mobility, and licensure of engineers. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is the U.S. member representative to the EMF and APEC.
Review and input provided by L. Robert “Larry” Smith, P.E., F.NSPE, and Bernard R. Berson, P.E., P.L.S.