'Engineering education and practices: issues and
Prof. Paul created pathway for Lankans to learn engineering
Eng. (Prof.) Robert Hoisington Paul memorial
lecture titled ĎEngineering Education and Practices: Issues and Future
Challengesí was delivered by Eng. Mangala P. B. Yapa recently at the
Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL)
Eng. (Prof.) Robert Hoisington Paul
Late Prof. Robert Hoisington Paul, who was born on February 9, 1904,
had his early education in Singapore and subsequently at S. Thomasís
College, Mt. Lavinia. Prof. Paul is one of the acclaimed teachers in the
field of electrical engineering, a man with a great vision, dedication
and commitment to his profession; a gentleman and an-engineer
par-excellence, who created the pathway for many Sri Lankans to learn
engineering in Sri Lanka, and most rightfully, being remembered as the
'father of electrical engineering education in Ceylon'.
It is my pleasant privilege and honour to deliver this memorial
lecture, in celebrating his 108th birth anniversary.
He won a scholarship to the University College which subsequently
became the University of Ceylon, and obtained a B.Sc. (General) Degree
from the University of London, with First Class Honours, at the age of
20! He was also awarded the Coomaraswamy Physics Prize and won the
Government Scholarship for further studies in the UK and joined the
University of Cambridge and obtained the Mechanical Sciences Tripos with
First Class Honours in 1928 and thereby created history by becoming the
first Sri Lankan to achieve this distinction.
Looking back at late Prof. Paulís illustrious career, what I find as
most interesting is his decision to return to Sri Lanka, after
continuing his undergraduate studies in the UK and working as a graduate
apprenticeship to serve his motherland; a lesson that many can emulate
even to date.
Upon his return he joined the then Ceylon Technical College as a
Lecturer. In 1940ís the University of London granted recognition for the
Ceylon Technical College to prepare students for its Bachelor of Science
Engineering Degree. It is noted that the development of the higher level
electrical engineering courses and the establishment of laboratory
facilities at this Ceylon Technical College were largely due to Prof.
Paulís valiant efforts.
He played a major role in the eventual recognition of the College in
1942, by the University of London to prepare students for its B.Sc.
(Engineering) external degree.
Quite obviously, he was appointed its first Professor of Electrical
Engineering, and from 1944 to 1949 held the position of the Director of
the College. Simultaneously, he also functioned as the Registrar of
Patents. Being an academic, he published several scientific papers and
one such article published in the Journal of the Institution of
Electrical Engineers, London was accredited with the Institutionís
Overseas Premium in 1944.
When the University of Ceylon established its faculty of engineering
in 1950, late Prof. Paul became the natural choice as its first
Professor of Electrical Engineering, a position he held until his
retirement from the faculty of Electrical Engineering in 1968, having
served for 18 long-years!
Once again, it was his responsibility, to plan and establish the
laboratories, train the staff and develop the courses of study in
Electrical Engineering, now at the University of Ceylon, which he had
done with his usual enthusiasm, initially at temporary facilities in
Colombo and later, in its permanent campus at Peradeniya.
An important part of late Professor Paulís role as an educationalist
and an engineer was the support he extended towards the establishment of
an industry in the country, where electrical engineers could practice,
at that time under Department of Government Electrical Undertakings (DGEU).
He always identified that the role of engineers is to serve its
community with a sense of purpose, and to challenge what needs to be
done and use the learning as an opportunity to serve the society at
By the time of his retirement in 1968, around 130 electrical
engineering graduates had passed out and the department had gained much
recognition both locally and internationally.
Late Prof. Paul took a keen interest in the upholding of the
Engineering profession. He was the President of the Institution of
Engineers, Sri Lanka in 1968, a Fellow of the Institution of Electrical
Engineers, UK and also its Overseas Representative in Sri Lanka from
1964 to 1978, the first Sri Lankan to hold this position. Being a
founder member of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of
Science, he served briefly as its General President in 1945.
His services were sought by the government of the day, on many
occasions. He was a Member of the Commission on Broadcasting and
Information (1965) and the Advisory Board of Technical Education (1966),
to name a few.
Prof. Paul passed away on July 3, 1978 at the age of 74. Undoubtedly,
there is a lot that we can learn from Prof. Paulís illustrious career.
What caught my attention amongst his many qualities were the following;
? He had a broad vision and dedicated his entire life to achieve this
vision; to create an institution, a university where generations of his
own countrymen could learn the noble profession of engineering. I am
sure that as a young bachelor of 26 years, he had more than ample
opportunities to get himself well established in the greener pastures of
the United Kingdom, but instead, he chose to return to Ceylon and join
his ulma-mater, the University College and started teaching electrical
engineering, dedicating himself to the motherland, demonstrating the
qualities of a great visionary and a true patriot.
? His vision was such that he worked relentlessly until it was
transformed into a full-fledged degree awarding university, and if not
for the valiant efforts of distinguished people of the calibre of late
Prof. Paul, perhaps there wouldnít have been a university in Sri Lanka
dedicated to engineering education. Such was his commitment to the cause
? He was an academic and a practitioner, who took time, though short
to apprentice in the industry, at his early stages of the career,
perhaps hinting the importance of practice of engineering, a point that
I would dwell upon later.
? His purpose was not that of merely achieving personal goals, but
dedicating himself towards far more broader societal goals, contributing
towards the development of the society at large; becoming a guiding role
model to many engineers to learn from.
Now, letís look at todayís topic for discussion, on the backdrop of
late Prof. Paulís illustrious career as an engineer, acclaimed teacher
and a distinguished professional.
The theme I have been requested to talk upon is ĎEngineering
education and practice: issues and future challengesí, which I believe
is an important aspect that late Prof. Paul himself would have to dwell
upon, during his entire career. As for me, the topic is timely and
Timely, because, I truly believe that we in Sri Lanka are at the
threshold of significant economic and social change. I also believe that
engineering and engineers have a crucial role to play in this national
endeavour. Therefore, it is timely.
I also see late Prof. Paul as a person who just happen to be in a
similar situation, and a person that belongs to the great men (and of
course women) who were able to give meaning to the independent Sri
Lanka. In spite of being 'subjects' of a colonial nation, who belonged
to the privileged class and had the fortune to educate himself in the
then existed colonial education system, he was able to establish himself
well in the independent Ceylon, and support the national cause, playing
a pivotal role in establishing a university in Sri Lanka.
To be continued