It’s been now 5 months since the SAPER project started so it’s the right time for a quick update from the UK side of the project. The team visited South Africa in April, our questionnaire targeting South African planning practitioners is being circulated this week, our first steering group is approaching and so is our first conference presentation at the RGS-IBG in August. In addition, the LinkedIn SAPER group has now brought together 426 planning practitioners.
The first round of preliminary discussions with academics and practitioners, combined with extensive readings and our visit to South Africa, revealed that calls for decolonising the curriculum in theory and practice is resonating in current debates while being a very sensitive issue in South Africa. Urban planning in the country faces key challenges including: dealing with the heritage of apartheid and very diverse and segregated cities; a severe shortage of urban planners in the public sector and few opportunities in the private sector; different planning systems operating simultaneously; intense political and economic issues; and of course a vital role for the planning accreditation body SACPLAN.
There is therefore a real need to investigate the social and economic value of planning education in South Africa and its challenges; it is also crucial to assess the current needs of South African planning practitioners (skills and training) and the relevancy with the urban planning HE curriculum. Beyond this, it is apparent that, in the UK, we, as academics, need to reflect upon our practice, particularly when teaching international students, and hence try to maximise knowledge transfer opportunities. Each student’s national background is different. However, lessons can be learnt from the differences and similarities identified out of those distinct contexts and avenues for ideas-sharing can be developed. For that purpose, the project is moving forward quickly in developing an online platform for ideas-sharing between UK and SA students which will be included in existing modules from next academic year. This innovative teaching tool is receiving significant interest from other institutions (e.g. Brazil and Jordan) with whom we are exploring possible collaborations.
We look forward to further developing our reflections and sharing ideas and updates soon.
Lauren Andres (UK PI)