Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Framing Turbulence in the Academy: UK Planning Academics in a Period of Change

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Framing Turbulence in the Academy: UK Planning Academics in a Period of Change

Article excerpt

Introduction

This is a paper about the UK planning academy within a context of institutional turbulence. Yet the changes and ethos it describes have some resonance in very many countries, especially North America and Northern Europe (e.g. Burawoy, 2011; Larner and Le Heron, 2003; Sullivan and Matthews, 2008). It is widely acknowledged that British universities are in a period of significant change, and that this involves a recasting of their purposes and values. Some of the language is apocalyptic, and there is no doubting the seriousness with which many view the issues at stake (Collini, 2012; Holmwood, 2011; Shore, 2008). This is the latest of a series of such periods since the 1960s, and now, as then, it is one where university systems in many countries are being questioned in similar, though not identical, ways. The uneven nature of changes, the lack of any single cause of change, and the differences between and even within the myriad institutions which populate the landscape of higher education in any developed country add to the dangers of simplistic generalising about what is happening (Larner and Le Heron, 2003; McLennan et al., 2005). It is clear, though, that very many universities in very many countries are being subjected to broadly similar pressures and demands, are tending to respond within relatively narrow ranges of options and are acutely aware of what other institutions - especially those which they may regard as comparators/competitors - are doing.1 As a consequence, a discussion of the UK planning academy will have something to offer an international audience.

A generally complex picture in relation to universities may be even more complicated in planning schools; these are affected by changes within higher education, but also have to be responsive to developments in planning, for which they are preparing their students (or at least a good proportion of their students). In thei970s, for example, many UK planning schools began to regard a PhD as a standard requirement for their new lecturers in line with trends in the humanities and social sciences in British universities (Becher and Trowler, 2001, 134; Thomas, 1981); this had implications for the recruitment of lecturers with direct experience of practice. Moreover, it was argued that it marked a shift from recruiting lecturers who regarded the planning school and professional practice as two settings for the same professional activity (planning), to recruiting lecturers who regarded themselves as academics who had an interest and some expertise in planning (Thomas, 1981). In a phrase, it marked a shift in the professional and workplace identity of at least some planning academics (Alvesson and Wilmott, 2002). Yet a recent survey of UK planning academics found that close to 60 per cent identified themselves as planners (Ellis et al., 2010, 49). Moreover, many non-academic professions - and the UK Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) is an example - still expect that a significant proportion of the staff of professional schools will be members of the professional body. One might expect that this can only complicate their responses to change in a university's demands upon them.

Significant changes in higher education can also have potential implications for the content of professional curricula. For example, Schön (1987) suggests that professionalism be regarded as a form of artistry, and he argues that appropriate models for professional education can be found in the educational traditions of developing competence in the arts. Central to education along these lines is the practicum ('a setting designed for ... learning a practice', Schön, 1987, 33). In this setting, students work together on projects of various kinds. In Schön's view, a professional education along these lines will run against the grain of important features of then-contemporary US higher education, especially the research universities, not least because the practicum is not best taught by research-active lecturers who are bringing their research to the classroom. …

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