The Masters of Regional and Urban Strategy (Stratégies territoriales et urbaines, STU) prepares students for professional practice in the field of urban policy and governance. A key component of year 1 is the module ‘Projet collectif’, in which students are exposed to real life scenarios. The module runs from October until June and provides an opportunity for students to engage with a variety of stakeholders in order to develop suitable proposals. Topics focus on the implementation of sustainability principles, public participation and social cohesion, in order to complement the theoretical content of the Master’s programme.
The STU Masters programme is a combination of theoretical background and exposure to professional practice. The group project module exemplifies that plurality of inputs, and challenges students to complete a research project that fulfils not only the academic requirements of their course, but also the expectations of professional practitioners.
The programme puts students into groups of four based on their interests and diverse backgrounds from their undergraduate studies. The topics of interest are submitted by the local stakeholders and are then chosen after an internal evaluation. A mentor is then chosen to overview each of the projects. This individual can be a representative of the university, industry or municipality, and the selection is based on their area of expertise and the proposed methodologies. An example of topics treated during the 2018-2019 year were:
- Use of numerical data for the optimization of urban regeneration projects
- Change of dynamics for municipalities and regions within the renewable energy markets through the use of urban policy
- State of public participation in medium-to-large sized settlements
Students must attend scheduled sessions while also developing their line of investigation, collecting and analysing data, and defining proposals. Students must also allocate extra time in order to complete their in-depth research. This includes the arrangement of interviews with specialist practitioners, communication with stakeholders, field trips for data collection and observation, and assessment sessions with members of the municipality. At the end of their second semester, students must submit an extensive report that summarises their findings, research methodology and proposals, as well as make a public presentation of their concept.
DEVELOPED SKILLS AND COMPETENCES
This interdisciplinary approach gives students an opportunity to gain first-hand experience, build a network, receive expert feedback, expand their research skills, and pursue a Master’s degree. The design of the programme combines the traditional research structure with guidance and methodology suggested by representatives of the municipality and other practitioners. There were several noted impacts from this programme, which varied based on the stakeholder engaged.
For the Urban School and Sciences Po University:
- A more robust connection between the theoretical background explained during the course and the reality of professional practice
For the students:
- A set of soft skills that will facilitate their transition into the professional career
- Increased technical capabilities in the use of professional software such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and statistical analysis
- Potential employment opportunities for postgraduates
For the local community:
- A good quality document that can inform future lines of investigation for municipalities
- A new dimension for the municipality, with up to date information and relevant use of the available data
- Potential recruitment considerations to strengthen the capabilities of the department
- Innovative ideas and research paths instigating a conversation within the government agencies to implement change within their structure
- Consideration of the allocation of resources to pursue solutions that were explored by student groups
The structure of the group project for their urban studies courses are already being replicated by other universities. The basic framework is easy to transfer to other contexts. However, the success of the project requires the accumulation of an extensive network of practitioners and collaborators. This one year module built into a larger Master’s programme can be a valuable reference point for similar initiatives in the future.
Sciences Po University