Cambridgeshire has no post-graduate course providers meeting local needs on transport planning

Which is why we need to think about how both Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, and the new University of Peterborough, are developed over the next quarter of a century.

I’ve very deliberately excluded the University of Cambridge from this piece simply because it is a global institution that draws its talent from all over the world, and therefore the jobs market for its graduates is also going to be global. Furthermore, the turnover of staff and students at the University of Cambridge makes it more difficult for many to put down roots and learn about the longer term local history of the town side. As we are seeing through the current strikes by the Universities and Colleges Union, some of the dreadful conditions we’re hearing about from academics and lecturers makes me wonder what benefits universities as institutions gain from treating their staff in that manner. Furthermore, campaigners and students themselves are looking at the amount in fees they are paying, and comparing this with they pay and conditions of junior academic staff and are asking very serious questions. The world of academia is not in the best of places despite the press releases from ministers about Britain being a global leader in stuff.

“Have your say on improvements to adult education spending!”

No – really. The Combined Authority is asking here. The consultation runs from Wednesday, February 16, 10am, until March 16 at 10am.

One of their proposals is:

“A plan to double the number of level 3 qualifications (equivalent to A-level/NVQ level 3) over the next four years. Level 3 qualifications currently make up 1 per cent of all adult education budget spend and the proposal is to increase it to 10 per cent.”

The Combined Authority, 16 Feb 2022

Which I’m fine with. What I have issues with is the lack of ‘adults only’ lifelong learning centres that are designed for the needs of adults – in particular those who might be retraining after a career in a different field, or those with caring responsibilities. For example a creche is essential. Furthermore, it has to be one designed in mind with excellent public transport and improving physical/mental health given the rural nature of the county. I’m also mindful that the Mayor has neither the funding nor legal powers to establish such institutions.

Local providers for local highly specialised roles – where we have chronic shortages

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough have no course providers at a post-graduate level for:

Cambridge University has architecture and engineering more than covered – but again their market is global. Given the very long term plans for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, I’d have thought establishing such courses and an institution to incorporate them (similar to my call for a new dental school at Peterborough) might be a priority.

One of the advantages of having courses based here is that the students will have to live the problems that their course is educating them to solve. Furthermore, given the huge national and local shortages of professionals in this field, it increases the options for local organisations and trusts to provide scholarships for fees and maintenance for full time – and even part-time students. For example I think it would be lovely to see some older apprentices perhaps who didn’t do well at school first time, being given the full support to work from few qualifications to fully-qualified town planning status part-time.

Several people at Anglia Ruskin have indicated an interest in providing such courses – if industry can demonstrate demand.

Furthermore, this is something that they’ve tried to address in previous years. Now that there is a clear local political lead on adult skills (i.e. the Mayor of the Combined Authority) and budgets to go with it, this is something that the Employment Board (made up of industry reps), and the Skills Committee should look at in more detail.

We know that local councils have chronic shortages in town planners

Ben Hatton wrote about this in 2019. It’s a long term, national problem and until central government enables councils to pay town planners salaries that match the private sector, this will remain a problem. In the meantime, I think there is much more that town planning institutions can do to work with local colleges to get career switchers moving into town planning and similar fields. Further more, it should also be possible for course providers to break up qualifications into modules that may be of interest to local residents in campaign groups. Group learning with people in public, private, and voluntary sectors all being able to discuss and debate local case studies in a learning context could, in the longer term, reduce workloads for all as a more town-planning-literate population will be able to refine and condense their representations down to the issues that the planning system allows, while at the same time being able to campaign for targeted improvements in the planning system that improves standards of construction and provides greater protections for the environment.

Local councils and the private sector should be funding scholarships to cover fees and maintenance – even including course completion bonuses.

Given the trajectory between now and 2040 on building and development, this is something that the institutions and firms could do some long term business planning on.

For example every year firms send a number of their employees on part-time courses, or take on an agreed number of new graduates who can start the post-graduate courses. If you can get the majority of firms in the industry to do this, it creates a culture within the industry not just of learning but also of sound ethics – mindful of how the entire construction industry has been exposed by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Therefore any new institution in/near Cambridge or Peterborough can start with a strong message to potential students, funders, and employers that they intend to establish a new, high standard of ethics showing that the industry is already learning from the shortcomings already exposed. It’s not just the construction industry – it’s my old university subject area of Economics that Times columnist Matthew Syed tore into in this column about the lack of ethics in the subject, and the impact this had on politics and western economies. And I’m sure they are not the only two industries or sectors that need to look in the mirror either.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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