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The windtunnel test
The windtunnel test
As part of the Cutting Edge Conference, a scenario planning exercise was conducted with the broad goal of starting a continuing strategic conversation about the future direction of real estate education and research. More precisely, it aimed to:
start to identify the driving forces of change affecting the property industry and real estate research;
use foresight through scenario learning to explore the issues and trends at play in the field of real estate education and research; and
begin to establish collective and collaborative policies and priorities for the future direction, funding and organisation of real estate research.
From an advance survey of conference participants over a hundred issues and trends in the real estate industry were identified, which were then analysed for their prospective impact and degree of uncertainty. This revealed around 40 "significant trends", 36 "pivotal uncertainties", 24 "context shapers" and a few "potential jokers".
The critical issues facing real estate education and research were separately diagnosed, and can usefully be summarised as follows:
problems of complexity;
academic versus commercial research imperatives;
impact of the Internet;
improvement of theory and techniques;
attracting and retaining good researchers;
need to anticipate and adapt to change;
changing paradigms challenging previous assumptions;
potential marginalisation of the profession;
attractiveness of real estate discipline;
decline in quality of students, staff and resources;
decline in standards;
pressure to "dumb-down";
failure to raise the level of "technical" competency;
unproductive competition between researchers;
trapped in traditions;
creation of scholastic tradition;
real estate relegated to business/finance/economics;
recognition of real estate as a key economic resource;
dismantling of real estate programmes;
need to integrate academe and practice;
adopting an holistic approach;
integration of corporate real estate requirements;
development of sound and appropriate scholarly base;
incautious adoption of imported "rocket science" finance techniques;
professional integrity and ethics; and
development of centres of excellence.
Four scenarios were then developed against alternative pictures of the future with different perspectives of institutional funding and market demand for real estate graduates. They are briefly described below:
1. "All the talents"
There is a high level of funding for research and a high demand for real estate education. All options are open, all things possible, and "all the talents" can be harnessed to promote and progress research for the real estate industry. The question is choice by all concerned:
Finance for research is relatively abundant, but the collection and distribution of funds is largely conducted by commercially sponsored foundations with an eye to practical applications of a short-term nature. The accent, moreover, is firmly placed upon information and communications technology and the biochemical and genetic engineering industries. Real estate markets are comparatively 1ocalised, but nonetheless thriving in most parts of Europe. Undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are attractive, but there has been a significant movement towards the business schools. MBA programmes with property investment, development and management options are particularly popular. Entrepreneurship is a key component in most courses. Scholarships are provided by firms to attract the most promising students. The Big Five management consultancy firms have each set up their own "Academies", where real estate is one of the fields of study. In the university arena, there is a strong polarisation, with a few elite institutions concentrating upon specialised masters programmes and "pure" research, while more local or regional institutions focus upon traditional undergraduate courses, postgraduate conversion programmes and market research for their localities. Staff tend to be on three-year rolling contracts, and many are remunerated on a nine month a year basis. The climate is generally one of market oriented competitiveness.
2. "Take your pick"
There is a high level of funding for research, but real estate education is not attractive. Those wishing to pursue real estate programmes or commission property related research can "take their pick" from among a range of competing institutions. Quality, reliability and service are paramount:
Research and development generally attracts a high level of funding by govemment, which places a priority upon environmental improvement and sustainable urban development at all scales. The conventional real estate industry, however, is viewed largely with disapprobation. Professional property firms have been marginalised by Web-based agencies on the one hand, brokerage, and by management consultants on the other, advisory services. It is not a popular career path, and much more interest and demand exists for inter-disciplinary courses in a broader built environment context. Programmes in areas such as sustainable development, local and regional planning, environmental resource management, urban design, project management and conservation are favoured. Great weight is attached in built environment education to integration, innovation and accountability in the planning and development processes. Education has, in fact, become a global commodity, and the virtual university a reality. However, a major report commissioned by the European Society of Chartered Surveyors damned real estate education as lacking: a true scholastic tradition; a proper academic rigour; a reliable research base; adequately qualified staff; a sufficiently broad perspective; effective integration with other related disciplines; and effective methods and techniques of analysis and policy formulation. The prospects for a respected and defined field of research in real estate are bleak.
3. "For sale to the highest bidder"
There is low funding for research, but real estate education is popular. It is a market place, where academic institutions offer real estate programmes and research services to those who can best afford them:
Although prosperity proliferates there is little formal financial support for academic research. Most significant research and development is undertaken by business and industry in pursuit of profitable returns from commercial markets. The real estate profession, however, flourishes. Property markets throughout Europe are thriving, and major infrastructure and other mega projects are in the course of construction or proposed. There are high levels of remuneration, and continuing prospects of a rewarding career in the world of property are bright. Undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in real estate attract students looking for business success. Several major universities in the UK, and a number of others across Europe, have been privatised and offer fully accredited real estate courses. A group of major North American universities have joined together to offer real estate programmes by a mixture of distance leaming and intensive study blocks at a co-operative campus developed by them in Ireland. Most leading business schools also offer specialised options in various property areas. The "top" universities have forged strategic alliances with major firms to foster research and continuing professional development activities (JLL/Reading, KPMG/Maastricht, PWC/ESSEC and AA/DIT). An International Centre for Real Estate Research has been founded by the RICS and the Urban Land Institute, based in The Hague, with satellite academies in Aberdeen, Berlin, Dublin, London and Paris. It is a vibrant world.
4. "Antisthenes reborn"
There is low funding for research, and little demand for real estate education. A downward cycle of decline traps the property profession, and a diminishing number of institutions chase shrinking budgets and falling roles. A dismal picture. (Antisthenes was the Athenian philosopher around 400BC who founded the Cynic school. He wore a ragged cloak and carried a collecting bowl and staff like a beggar.)
Narrow short-term thinking has led to an absolute paucity of funds for research. What monies there are, are directed towards the high technology industries and the commercial end of genetic engineering and pharmaceuticals. The real estate market is disaggregated, disenchanted and disappearing in a structured form. Disintermediation has struck at the heart of the earnings base. Technology driven knowledge based expert systems have rendered much previously "professional" work to a merely "technical" level. Real estate education is generally unattractive. There is a sharp polarisation of academic institutions. The "best" universities are forced to raise fees, and just manage to recruit an ever diminishing pool of property oriented students. "Lower division" universities are forced to dismantle courses and amalgamate or modularise real estate programmes almost out of recognition. Many abandon real estate education altogether, and departments of business, economics and finance gobble up the remains. There is deferred maintenance, non-renewal of equipment and cuts in staff and staff development almost everywhere. Early retirement deals for older faculty, vacant positions and the use of part-time and temporary staff proliferate. The RICS re-introduces examinations and withdraws recognition from all but five centres of excellence in the UK and seven others across Europe. On top of all this, the RICS Research Foundation withholds support from university based research and, in conjunction with a "consortium" of top firms, establishes its own Research Institute.
From this exercise a number of common policies emerged that would apply in most future scenarios:
The need to continue delivering "discipline specific" knowledge, whilst realising that such knowledge, and jobs themselves, are developing short "shelf-lives".
Graduates will have to be equipped to move with ease from one area of knowledge applications to another.
Quality environments and first-class facilities and services will have to be provided to attract and retain the best students and the best staff.
Strong partnerships will have to be forged with the construction and real estate industry, as well as with government, business and the community.
Selected top-class academics will have to be recruited on competitive terms – salary, performance, participation, and facilities – to form a core team for research and learning development.
Other academic staff, on more traditional contracts, will perform roles more akin to project or programme managers, identifying, analysing, adapting and delivering "best practice" teaching and learning packages developed in the burgeoning international "k.commerce" marketplace for their own institutions.
A "premier league" of construction and real estate schools will develop, and should be fostered by the profession, which will form part of an international/European network of "élite" programmes.
These premier league players will have a formal association with, or be part of, similarly positioned business management schools.
Institutions and schools in "lower" divisions will have to find a niche to occupy by carefully positioning themselves in respect of catchment, discipline, research specialism, and nature and level of programmes offered.
Some schools could beneficially concentrate upon a multi-and inter-disciplinary approach, not just within the complementary disciplines of the built environment, but also among various allied fields of industry, commerce and governance.
Entrepreneurship should figure prominently – both as a skill to be developed among the competencies of the graduate surveyor, and as an ethos for educational institutions.
Continuing professional education will grow enormously over the next five to ten years, demanding an adroit, state-of-the-art, diverse and imaginative approach towards the delivery of programmes on the part of offerers.
The keynote of the exercise was summed up by the phrase: "If we are to plan the future, we must first imagine it."
Mr John RatcliffeDirector, Faculty of the Built EnvironmentDIT Bolton StreetDublin email@example.com