Fifty years ago this week I began teaching planning students. To time travel back to that week in October 1969 would take you to a territory unrecognisable for today's students. Students were not paying for their own tuition fees (£75 per year in those days), so full-time students really were full-time. They were expected to be fully committed to their studies – except on Wednesday afternoons, which were for sport. It was also a time when students and planners looked confidently to the future. A growing international youth culture was sweeping away old conventions. While comprehensive redevelopment increasingly was being challenged, new planning legislation in Britain promised to bring in a new and better way of doing planning, complete with public participation and a two-tier system of Structure and Local Plans for a reorganised, more strategic system of local government.
In at the deep end
I was just 25 and had been appointed as a Lecturer in the Department of Town and Country Planning. I am indebted to Tony Travis, professor and head of school, for taking a chance on me, despite my inexperience. The rest of my colleagues consisted of 3 senior lecturers and 9 other lecturers. Nine of the staff were members of the (then) Town Planning Institute (TPI); 6 were professional architects, and there was a civil engineer, a chartered surveyor and a landscape architect (the only woman). Only one member of staff had a PhD, and none of us had anything like the research record that is now demanded. Another big difference from today is that we really were a “planning school”, freestanding and with considerable autonomy, not a small cog in a much larger interdisciplinary management unit.
My contract was with Edinburgh College of Art, but the degrees and student recruitment were through Heriot-Watt University, an arrangement that was innovative but proved problematic. The Art College was funded directly by the government’s Scottish Education Department. Specifically this meant that there was no element of research funding included in the allocation of money, and we were paid on a less favourable salary scale than those on university contracts. Against that, the contracts only required staff to work 24 hours a week, with the explicit assumption that they would be involved in private practice. My naïve enthusiasm for academia meant that I worked long hours and tried to do research, passing up the opportunity to build a more financially rewarding career. It would not belong before the tensions between the two models, institutionally defined by the College and the University, created real problems which took many years to be resolved.
My contract began on 29 September 1969, just one week before the students arrived for the new academic session. I was given no training in how to teach. All I could do was draw upon my own, still recent, experience of being on the receiving end of some very good, and some very bad, teaching. I had suffered; now others would suffer me. I owe much to Dr. Keith Thomas, an economist with whom I shared an attic room in a converted residential property at 48 Manor Place in Edinburgh’s West End, where the Planning school was located until 1973. Keith was the only member of staff with a teaching qualification, and a valuable informal mentor. It was a few years later, when I was tutoring for the Open University, that I got some formal guidance on how to teach. This is one area where things have definitely improved: there may still be some poor teachers but at least they have had some training!
My main involvement was with the undergraduates. I was Yearmaster to the first final year cohort on the 5-year B.Sc. course that included a sandwich year in practice (though students returned to us on Fridays for classes). There were only 9 students in that 5th year group, all men. They had joined a 3-year Diploma course which would have given them exemption from the Intermediate Professional Examinations of the TPI. Then in 1968, an agreement between the Art College and the University, had opened the option of completing the extended 5-year programme to get a B.Sc. and, pending an accreditation visit in June 1970, full exemption from the TPI’s own fearsome external examinations system.
The title “Studio Yearmaster” defined a set off relationships that were at the core of all planning schools in those days. It went without saying that the expectation was that the post would be filled by a male. There were no “Studio Yearmistresses”, and “Studio Person” would have been beyond anyone’s imagination. According to the written guidance I was given, as Yearmaster I was responsible to the Senior Lecturer / course leader for “the efficient operation of the year’s studies – the studio work in detail, and general co-ordination of lectures and seminars with that studio programme”. You had to “prepare a sequence of studio programmes”, ad “give regular guidance and supervision to the year group on studio-work, and ensure its satisfactory completion, submission and marking”. Yearmasters also were required to “sort out any day to day operating needs of the year group” while also watching “the comparative all round performance and development of students in the year”. In short, the Yearmaster could make or break a student or even an entire year group. It was a powerful position, reinforcing the imbalance of power between a member of staff and a student at a time when students were not “customers”, and staff did not need to fret about loss of fee income if they wanted to fail a student and require withdrawal from the university. The studio work was all consuming and the yearmaster controlled its content, tuition and assessment. For the majority of staff who were caring and conscientious, the yearmaster/studio role could be so time-consuming as to make engagement with research impossible. Of course, the model came from architecture, and in those days it was uncritically accepted.
What was taught?
Like in all UK higher education at that time, teaching was organised over three terms: the short summer term was given over to studio-based Practical projects, with exams on lecture courses being held at the end of Term 2, an unusual and innovative arrangement. The curriculum had to closely follow that used by the TPI for their own examinations. There were no modules. The new intake of 25 students to the undergraduate course (again all men) in 1969 studied a first year that consisted of lecture courses in Applied Geography (18 lectures) and Applied Geology (6 lectures); Historical geography (12) with Ecology and Landscape (12); Basic (sic) Sociology (20) and Elements of Law (6); Basic Economics (12) and Elements of Public Administration (6); Planning Theory 1 (24); Introduction to Communication Theory (6) and Use of English and Logical Method (12); Statistics I (24); and, of course, there was Practical 1 (“12 hours per week minimum” according to the course guide) plus Techniques 1 (another 5 hours per week in the studio). They also had to take one Elective – either Moral and Social Philosophy taught by the Reverend Johnston, or Development of Science and Technology, or History of Applied Design. There was also a residential “Field Visit” away from Edinburgh, plus “Day Study Tours and Site Visits”, individual progress tutorials and also “informal” Year Seminars. A two-day-a-week job working in a bar or store was out of the question.
Looking at that programme there are differences and similarities with what is typically taught to first year planning students today. The course titles were less crafted to appeal to consumers than is now the norm, but the spread encompassing design, environment and society remains. The big difference is the time and (staff, student and space) resources that was committed to Practical project work in the studios. The focus in the studio in Year 1 was on design at the local scale. Year 2 students did a Rural Planning Study involving survey-analysis and plan-making, and also an Urban Planning Study, with proposals for “urban structure and either a district plan or action area plan”. In Year 4, after the sandwich year, the practical project was at urban region scale, with “related advanced local planning studies, including applied three dimensional design for sector scale such as town centre, housing areas, etc.” For my own 5th year group, each student had to prepare 3 “Research Essays”, and I had to supervise and assess all 27 of these. In those pre-Google days I built a card index reference system of as wide a range of publications as I could, so as to be able to guide and support the students in selecting and developing their topics. Then in the summer term we did a design project for what was to become the St. James Centre, a large cleared site for a city centre mixed use development.
Overall, the undergraduate programme design was ambitious. I am not sure if the full range of promised electives were ever actually available, but the variety of topics taught, combined with the demanding studio work and the duration of the course with its sandwich year in practice, gave the graduates diverse insights and in-depth skills. Several of the lecture courses were taught by people from outside the Department, and there were times when this did not work well. The Statistics lectures, provided by a member of the Maths Department, resulted in mass failures in the examination. Consequently Keith Thomas and I had to devise and teach a much more planning focused and user-friendly version the following year.
That first year, 1969-70, I taught Statistics 2 to the second year, and to the full- and part-time post-graduate programmes. The 12 lectures gave an introduction to computing and information systems, and forecasting techniques for demography, housing, employment, shopping and recreation. I also had 9 lectures in Planning Theory to 5th Year, which looked at long-range forecasting and futurology, mathematical modelling and systems planning (very much the new thing at the time). All these classes were seeking to prepare students not for planning as it was at the time, but for what it could become in the 1970s, a public sector-led, evidence-based strategic function that would drive progressive social, economic and environmental change. Yes, I know that sounds old-fashioned, but I have always believed that a planning education should foster a critical insight on current practices: it should lead, not follow, practice.
As Yearmaster to 5th Year I also arranged and participated in their field trip to Poland – but that exploration beyond the Iron Curtain is a whole story by itself, and I will save it for another blog!