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RTPI Blog: Planning education: the future

Gavin Parker, RTPI director of professional standards and chair of Planning Studies at the University of Reading, looks at the key issues facing planning education at a critical time
The impact of the recession, along with other factors such as tuition fees, has hit some university courses hard. The built environment disciplines – already historically susceptible to economic slumps – generally have suffered over the past five years. Overall numbers of students on RTPI-accredited planning courses have dropped by around a third from the high point of 2006, with some Planning Schools struggling to recruit. 
To their credit, the universities have been working with the RTPI to diversify and innovate in these circumstances. There has been some notable success in new course development and reorganisation internally. Yet more needs to be done. 
Planning education has some enduring challenges to face – over and above the current economic squeeze. How teenagers and their parents make decisions about study is very important and communication with potential and prospective students is therefore critical. 
The tendency of the UK government, at times, to lambast the planning profession for all manner of ills continues with “too little development” and is not helpful in encouraging planning as a career. These types of issues require the RTPI and its partners to respond vigorously and through campaigns, on an ongoing basis, in a way that sets out clearly the benefits of good planning. By association, the benefits of good planning education will need to speak to parents, youngsters and politicians.
Last year I wrote in defence of planning education in the Times Higher Education Supplement pointing out the export value of planning and how planning education needs to be recognised in this light. Future planners come from all around the world to study in accredited schools in the UK and Ireland, reflecting the status of planning and planning education here in the eyes of many abroad.
In fact, the RTPI has also been working with a number of universities in other countries to ensure that such quality is developed and maintained internationally.
The subject status of planning also needs to be defended. Planning has been regarded as strategically important (ie, accorded SIV – strategically important and vulnerable subject status) and received a funding settlement for postgraduate provision that helped university decision-makers to maintain their offer.
This has been reviewed and the funding model altered. I urge anyone with an interest to write to the Higher Education Funding Council for England to support planning. Without such expressions of support, the position of planning education will be further eroded.
Given the above, the other key strand to be highlighted here is the co-ordination role that the RTPI clearly has in promoting not only planning education and planning as a set of socially important activities, but planning as a career. This needs to assist in communicating the roles and the need for planners in society, and this work is now recognised as a priority for the RTPI.  
A new careers lead has been appointed and the Future Planners project, using trained ambassadors, brings RTPI members into schools with high-quality materials and messages.
This is already underway as the first part of the new work to ensure that young people at school gain an awareness of planning and the challenges that planners worldwide are necessarily involved in addressing. This has the express aim of supporting the flow of interested teenagers into universities. 
The future of planning education is at a critical moment. Therefore, the profession needs to get behind the universities and the RTPI in seeking to press home the importance of producing our future planners.
For information on Future Planners/Ambassadors and the RTPI’s careers work, click here 
The biannual RTPI Education newsletter is available on request, or contact us to be added to the mailing list: [email protected]
HEFCE explanation of SIV subject support here


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