Professor Lord Bhattacharyya, Warwick Manufacturing Group founder dies

Published 4th March 2019

It is with sadness that we report the death of Professor Lord Bhattacharyya, who died on the 1st March 2019.  He was a great supporter of the subject Design and Technology and in the late 1990s, played a very significant role in the subject’s development, of which many today will be unaware. In turn, his support led to the Design and Technology Association embarking on developing and providing possibly the largest ever programme of D&T subject specific professional development, the CAD/CAM in Schools Initiative. This programme was subsumed latterly within the Digital D&T initiative and enjoyed DfE funding until 2013.

In 1980, he set up Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) with the sole objective of reviving British manufacturing industry. He firmly believed in building strong links between international businesses and academia. One of his greatest achievements was to convince the Tata Family to purchase Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford for £1.15bn and subsequently invest in transforming the company.

Andy Breckon, Chief Executive of the D&T Association from the mid 90's until 2002 used to say, that the inclusion of CAD/CAM in the National Curriculum Design and Technology Programmes of Study was responsible for the single biggest investment in resourcing the subject. He reports:

“In late 1997 I met Kumar and some of his colleagues at WMG to talk about modernising D&T, my view was that we needed to bring in CAD/CAM to give real impetus to the curriculum and so we could write in to the National Curriculum programmes of study when they were being redrafted. He agreed and in 1998 we secured an agreement with the software company PTC, for their CAD software to be used in schools.  The agreement amazingly, also permitted pupils to have a copy at home at no cost. That agreement was only possible because of Kumar’s working relationship with PTC’s Chairman. However we had a problem, because the Department for Education and Employment DfEE had never in the past endorsed any software for schools and we needed money to help with the training of teachers”.

Previous attempts at providing schools with technical software had failed and it was thought that simply making available ProDesktop, (a cut down version of ProEngineer used extensively within industry) without mediation and the provision of high quality training and support would similarly fail. Andy goes on to say:

“Kumar had excellent connections with Ministers and even the Prime Minister so we soon overcame that hurdle. This led in June 1999 to the CAD/CAM in schools initiative, launched at WMG by Charles Clarke, at the time Minister for Schools. Without Kumar’s foresight and connections across both the industrial and political fields, the coordinated introduction of CAD/CAM in schools would never have taken place. Since then he has frequently supported D&T by writing to Ministers - or frequently just calling them to put the case.”

The initial training the trainers courses, one of which I attended, began in 1999 and the roll out to schools started in 2000 when the training manual was published by the D&T Association. The key author of this was Dr Steve Maggs, who was the WMG trainer working with industry. At the time I was a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Design and Technology Education, Sheffield Hallam University. The institution was graduating up to 100 student D&T teachers a year.  We made it a requirement that all were required to complete ProDesktop training, certificated by the D&T Association, as part of their PGCE/Professional year. The programme also made a considerable contribution to establishing and securing the D&T Association and enabling it to build and extend networks across the country, involving many of the country’s leading D&T experts.

Today’s CAD/CAM in schools was built on the foundations of that programme and it is hard to imagine how the subject might have fared had it not been for the intervention and involvement of Professor Lord Bhattacharyya. He is sadly missed.

Author - Andy Mitchell

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