HomeSpotlightDoes urban planning education need a revamp?

Does urban planning education need a revamp?

It’s a well-accepted fact that while urban planning is essential to solve the pressing urban problems of the 21st century, the professional planning practices in place have not always been able to keep pace with the challenges faced by urban areas in countries like ours. Rapid urbanization in recent times has forced planners to respond to escalating demand for housing, infrastructure and services – from both formal and informal sectors. At the same time, climate change is posing a whole range of new challenges for our cities. In this situation, it is clear that we not only need more number of planning professionals but also greater breadth of knowledge among planners is required to plan effectively.

While planning in the past was the domain of public-sector authorities in centrally planned countries like ours, it is increasingly becoming the focus of action by a wide variety of private, civil society and even informal-sector organizations as well. Meanwhile, urban planning education in many countries has shifted its focus from physical design to a heightened focus on policy and social science.

Aiming at multicultural cities

Though we have not yet experienced in our cities but going by the experience of other countries, our cities need to be prepared to accommodate the arrival of international migrants in the days to come. The multicultural nature of many cities requires multicultural planning skills. So, together with changes in technical knowledge essential to successful urban planning, there have been changes in the softer ‘people’ skills needed to manage the processes of change.

Urban planning in India

According to AICTE Act 1987, technical education means “programs, of education, research, and training in engineering and technology, architecture, town planning, management, pharmacy, and applied arts and crafts, and such other programs or areas as the Central Government may in consultation with the Council, by notification in the official gazette”. All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the statutory body and a national-level council for technical education, provides approval for town planning educational institutions as per prescribed procedures and rules on the sanctioned intake capacity, land area requirements, infrastructural requirements, teacher-student ratio, nomenclatures, etc. Centrally funded technical universities like School of Planning and Architecture, Indian Institute of Technology, etc., are governed by central legislation and therefore they do not require any approval from regulatory bodies. As per the Approval Process Handbook of AICTE 2020-21, approval for courses in the open and distance learning modes has not been granted by the Council for certain fields, including town planning.

Some hard facts

Currently, urban planning education in India is being offered by 49 institutions. Some other facts about the urban planning education in India are:

  • These 49 educational institutions provide degree programmes in urban planning and allied specialisations/nomenclatures like environmental planning, transportation planning, housing, infrastructure planning, and so on and are distributed across the country barring the North-Eastern States (except Assam), Western Himalayas and UTs (except New Delhi).
  • Of these 33 institutions offer only programmes, 12 offer both postgraduate and undergraduate programmes, and 4 offer only undergraduate programmes, as of 2020.
  • While the total annual sanctioned intake capacity of postgraduate degree programmes is 1300, that of undergraduate degree programmes is about 550. In other words, India has the capacity to supply approximately 1875 planners, (generalists as well as specialists) every year.
  • Of the total sanctioned intake capacity of postgraduate degree programmes, about 27% is housed in Gujarat. In case of undergraduate programmes, Madhya Pradesh has maximum intake capacity with 22% share.
  • Since 2014, 40% of the sanctioned intake capacity has been added to the postgraduate programmes while 84% to undergraduate programmes.

Widening demand supply gap

Though there is growing need of urban planners worldwide, the number of students getting qualified is relatively small thus widening demand supply gap.  For example, in the UK, there are 38 planners per 100,000 population, while in Nigeria and India the figure is 1.44 and 0.23 respectively. So, there is an urgent need for strategic interventions to raise the quality and quantum of the planning education system in the context of curriculum, demand, regional distribution and ranking framework of institutions, research environment, faculty development and related aspects.

Courses lack appeal among students

But this is easier said than done. According to All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report 2018-19 (MHRD, 2019), only 938 students were enrolled in undergraduate planning education (491 males and 447 females), 1028 were enrolled in M Plan. while only 8 candidates enrolled for Ph.D. in planning. The programme-wise enrolment at all the levels of degrees in planning remains a fraction in comparison to the other fields like arts, sciences, and business administration. The reason for poor response from the students towards the urban and regional planning education courses is their lack of appeal in comparison to other fields to the prospective students. Unclear future employability, return on investments, lack of awareness in the employers and quality of education/infrastructure also add to the untouchability of the course.

Further, North-Eastern and Western Himalayan States do not have any institution that offers degree programmes in hill area planning. Studies also show that there is a dearth of rural area planning professionals for the implementation of the rural programmes. Urban planning education and practice are largely urban-centric and there is a need for specialised courses in rural area planning as well as hill area planning.

Also, there is no statutory requirement/basis to accredit planners for providing professional services. ITPI as a professional body of town planners provides ‘memberships’ to the eligible planners, however, it is voluntary to register with the institute.

Faculty shortage

A serious challenge of faculty shortage was observed by the Advisory Committee members with approximately 25-30% shortage. Also, there are few quality improvements programmes for faculty in the urban planning domain. The faculties also have limited motivation and incentive to heighten their research and expertise. These can be major limitations in the adoption or adaptation of the model curricula.

Thus, there is considerable need to increase the capacity of planning education in India, like in many other developing economies. As a system, planning education has moved vigorously towards theories and tools that respond effectively to the new challenges of 21st-century planning. Diffusion of these innovations has not been complete enough, however. Curriculum reform is needed in many of our planning schools. Schools which still treat planning only as a design exercise or only as a policy practice need to broaden their approaches. Beyond this, training programmes aimed at specific segments should be undertaken by planning professional associations and by government recognised development agencies.

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