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Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
What is the future of surveying education?
The RICS held a two-day conference for university tutors in Brighton recently. We were promised “sun, sea, sand and … surveying”. We saw precious little sun and residing as I do in East Norfolk I am used to the golden sands of that part of the coast and would never describe the pebbles on the Brighton beach as “sand”. However, we were by the sea and there was plenty of discussion about the future of surveying education. The following thoughts are my interpretation of a possible future for this most important subject, based upon presentations and discussion at the conference.
It seems that UCAS who process all university admissions have changed the grouping names and “surveying” no longer appears in the headings of any course groupings. Potential applicants for surveying courses must therefore demonstrate considerable research skills in order to find a university surveying course in the first place. The RICS intends to lobby UCAS to try to rectify this position. Not that universities are short of applicants at the present time. I remember writing in these columns a few years ago bemoaning the lack of applicants for all built environment courses. The booms in construction and property have resulted in a much healthier state of affairs in this respect. The raised entry standards that the RICS have imposed on universities have meant that other bodies such as the CIOB are prospering at the RICS’s expense, but most built environment academic departments have much better student numbers than only two years ago.
The Brighton conference was arranged at relatively short notice and was not very well attended which was a pity as there were some interesting and thought provoking debates among delegates. We were entertained by an after dinner talk from Professor Laurie Taylor and were all inspired by a presentation from Sydney Olympic rowing gold medal winner, Ben Hunt-Davies. There was a divergence of opinion upon the likely impact that the increased level of university top-up fees is likely to have. Some, including Laurie Taylor, thought that increased costs would focus applicants’ minds more on vocational subjects while others thought that students would be more likely to choose subjects that interested them if they were paying more for their degree. One of my daughters is busy in applying for graduate accountancy jobs at the moment having just completed a human genetics degree. She has been told by firms that she has a distinct advantage in not having studied accountancy or business at undergraduate level as they prefer applicants from a wider range of subjects who “can think out of the box”.
This brings us to the most significant recent development in surveying education. In the last three years the number of students on RICS accredited undergraduate courses has remained fairly static. However, during the same period there has been a boom in numbers on graduate conversion courses. Some of these are at “masters” level but if you look closely at what is being studied on these courses it is actually at undergraduate level. The legal profession has no such hang-ups with their qualification for such conversion courses and does not try and pass off the Common Professional Exam as a master’s course. Anyway, these surveying conversion courses currently account for a staggering 47 percent of all students on RICS accredited courses. In other words, there are very nearly as many students studying surveying after completing a non-cognate degree as they are studying the subject at undergraduate level. If this trend continues we may see the subject taught only at postgraduate level and not at all at undergraduate level.
The big problem that I have with these graduate conversion courses is that in order to achieve a fast track course, most omit subjects that are taught at level 1 of undergraduate courses. I have long believed that the most important subject a building surveyor studies is level 1 construction technology. How can anyone design, adapt or survey a building without knowing how it is to be, or was, built? While I can see that these fast-track courses can produce quite capable general practice surveyors I have my doubts about their ability to deliver technically competent surveyors. It is early days yet and the industry will ultimately decide whether the graduates from these conversion courses are worth employing. I have recently received a press release from the CIOB which suggests that they are also intending to go down this graduate conversion route.
I used the term “technically competent” in the last paragraph and in doing so was reminded of a presenter at the conference who said that of course, the proposed home condition reports would be carried out by “technicians” and not qualified surveyors. Certainly, a number of large corporate home surveyors and valuers are recruiting surveying graduates from RICS accredited courses with a view to them completing the Assessment of Technical Competence and not the Assessment of Professional Competence. However, the thought did cross my mind as I listened to this eminent speaker “I wonder if he would be happy with HIS home being surveyed by a technician”. A lot of nonsense is talked about the low levels of knowledge required for the mind-numbing job of the house surveyor. Having earned my living for 15 years doing mainly this, I can testify that not only did I enjoy the work but that most days I learnt something new. There is no doubt that surveying education is going through a period of great change. What is most important however is that building surveying should remember its routes and should not forget that members of its profession need to have a foundation of good technical knowledge. Building surveying has prospered over the last 30 years because another profession seemed to lose interest in the technology of buildings. Let us not make the same mistake.