Many degree subjects are being challenged on their vocational value. But undergraduate courses in planning provide a well-rounded, hands-on approach to study and their value is increasingly being recognised by government, industry and local communities.
Planning students become equipped with a range of academic, practical and vocational skills while learning about how to improve the quality of life for people living in cities, towns and rural areas. Perhaps this is the reason why the introduction of top-up fees last year has done little to deter undergraduate planning course applicants.
The University of Dundee is expecting a 40 to 50 per cent rise in applications this year. Requests to Queen's University, Belfast went up by 25 per cent last year, despite entry requirements being moved up to three B grades at A level.
Excellent job opportunities are a key reason for the interest in planning courses. "Prospects for planning graduates are better than I can remember. Most of our students have landed their first job before they graduate," says Linda Keightley, course leader for the undergraduate masters in planning at Sheffield Hallam University.
Some planning schools offer students a BA or BSc programme for three years, followed by a masters or postgraduate diploma. Others run a four-year undergraduate MA, which incorporates all these elements. Alternatively, sandwich courses involve taking a year out during a five-year programme to work full-time in planning, in either the public or private sector.
Some students choose to complete all or part of their course part-time so that they can take up a planning job. Neil Adams, course leader for the BA in urban and environmental planning at London South Bank University, believes this benefits the group as a whole. "We find that the diversity of our student body in terms of age and life experience as well as the split between full-time and part-time students who are working in a planning capacity provides an excellent opportunity for students to learn from each other," he says.
Aside from the academic and professional benefits, studying planning can also be a lot of fun.Dundee has an active student society called Student Planning Association Dundee that organises a range of activities, from pub crawls to five-a-side football tournaments. The highlight is the annual SPAD Ball, held each spring.
Students on the city and regional planning programme at Oxford Brookes University are encouraged to go on academic exchanges abroad. Students can study for one or two semesters at an approved institution in Europe, the USA, Canada or Australia. There is also the chance to take a three-week field trip module in Canada. On their return, students submit an assessed project on an aspect of Canadian planning.
Most courses encourage students to seek work experience. Some have programmes with local authorities and consultancies to help students gain summer placements, which can greatly improve the chances of securing a job. Some organisations offer paid summer placements to students at the end of their third year.
Ian Anderson, director of planning at private firm CB Richard Ellis, says the company employs a large number of planning graduates who have undertaken work experience with them during their degree course. "You get a much better impression of someone from working with them for a number of months than you are able to get from a one-hour interview," he says.
- Check out the list of courses accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute on page 12.
USEFUL A LEVELS
Art and graphic design: The ability to communicate and assess ideas graphically.
Business studies: Helps appreciation of commercial practice and management.
Economics: Insight into how towns, cities and regions create wealth and the factors that govern locational decisions.
English: Clear analysis and presentation of ideas, proposals, strategies and arguments.
Environmental studies: A grasp of how humans and the natural world interact.
Geography: Appreciation of all the human and physical factors that shape environments, societies, communities and places.
History: Long-term processes of social and economic change and heritage issues.
Information technology: Ability to analyse, process and present complex data.
Psychology: How individuals feel about their surroundings and their aspirations.
Politics: Knowledge of decision-making and policy formulation mechanisms.
- Julie Crawford
BSc in Environmental Planning,
Queen's University Belfast
Julie Crawford's father owns a construction business, which gave her an interest in building and planning from an early age. She enjoyed studying geography at school and wanted to look at settlements in more depth, so she decided to take a degree in planning at university. Currently on an Erasmus exchange trip at KTH University in Stockholm, Julie says she is enjoying studying abroad and is particularly keen to find out more about the Swedish planning system. She finds the design aspect of her course the most enjoyable element and is considering taking a masters course to specialise in it.
- Fred Raphael
BA Urban and Environmental Planning, London South Bank University
Fred Raphael feels he has finally found a career that he can be passionate about. "Planning involves promoting human welfare and social reform, so there is a definite feel-good element to it," he says. Fred studies part-time while working as a transport planner for the London Borough of Hackney. He finds urban regeneration the most appealing element of his course and believes that it would be rewarding to be involved in implementing policies and programmes that improve the quality of life of people living in deprived areas. He intends to stay on at university and study for an MA in town planning, specialising in urban regeneration.
- Jenny Barker
MA in Planning Studies, Sheffield Hallam University
Jenny Barker is gearing up to embark on the masters element of her undergraduate planning degree. Having secured a part-time job as a planning assistant at planning and law firm Freeth Cartwright, she has taken advantage of the option to study the course part-time. She got the job after undertaking work experience during a summer break. Jenny is enjoying learning about the way cities develop and how planning has an effect on everything from street furniture to skyscrapers. She is fascinated by the way good design can bring benefits to a community and hopes to work in community planning in the future.