Surveyor Profile: Tony Westcott

A Personal History of QS Education at UWE Bristol

My Early Years as QS Trainee to Chartered QS

This presentation will be largely based on my personal experience as a Quantity Surveying student and then Senior Lecturer at Bristol Polytechnic, which later became the University of the West of England, Bristol.

How did I get into QSing? I left Bristol Grammar School in 1967 with three grade E A-levels. My careers master suggested an interview with a local surveying practice. The large Bristol-based practice of Gleeds Chartered QSs, offered to take me on as a trainee, starting in the basement as tea-boy and Xerox copy operator. It was a very friendly and caring practice with a great social life and rugby team, but it was not very conducive to academic progress by correspondence course. The course with the College of Estate Management in Reading was the normal preparation for external exams set by the RICS to gain professional qualification. It was clear that I going to struggle to progress through that route when an early marriage required funding above the £5 per week starting rate at Gleeds.

So, this is my starting point for this presentation, informed by five decades of experience as a QS working in private practice and for contractors in UK and overseas, both as practitioner and academic.

I am structuring this short presentation under the headings of:

1. My Early Years as a QS Trainee to Chartered QS

2. Development of QS Education at Bristol Polytechnic

3. UWE Bristol – New University – New Culture

4. Internationalisation of the QS curriculum

5. Non-Cognate Graduate Entry to the QS Profession

6. Recent Developments in Teaching and Learning

Early Development of QS Education in Bristol

During the late 60’s, the RICS was moving to replace its internal exams with taught courses at academic institutions. One of the first was the three year full-time course, Diploma in Building Economics, at the Bristol Regional College, housed in the former Barnardo’s Orphanage. I joined the course in 1969 and within three years, the College became Bristol Polytechnic. The Course Director was Neil Ash and the final year tutor Maurice Wayne. Both were very practice-based, dedicated and caring tutors; Maurice was very much at the leading edge of computer development in QSing at a formative time when this involved accessing a 96Kb main frame computer in its own air-conditioned room using punch cards for data input. In 1967, we had moved from imperial to metric and were beginning to use hand-held calculators to replace slide rules. On the academic side, we learnt how to develop manual spreadsheets for data analysis and learnt construction technology through practicising skills of bricklaying, carpentry and plumbing in the workshops.

My Early Years as a QS Graduate

I graduated in 1972 and returned to work for Gleeds. Early work included measuring all the internal finishes for the new Bristol Polytechnic site at Frenchay. It was being built on a green-field site 4 miles north of Bristol, reputedly to avoid the city-centre becoming overwhelmed by “flower-power” students. A further year’s QS practice gained me RICS Associateship in 1973; the last year before the Test of Professional Competence was introduced. RICS professional qualification led to promotion to the newly-formed Cost Planning department, created by partners Clive Browning and Peter White.

My practice experience developed with post-contract services to an office refurbishment project in the city centre.

Over the next two years, our team provided cost plans for some 40 projects, covering a wide range and size of buildings, but this was the time of the Middle East oil crisis, 25% inflation, 15% mortgage rates, 3-day working week, electricity blackouts and coal miners’ strikes. So none of our cost plan projects progressed to construction.

I decided to chase the oil money to Qatar, working for Langdon & Every, later to become DL&E, then AECOM. Three years working there was a steep learning curve, with involvement in more than 30 projects, including the Doha English Speaking School, later to be opened by the Queen, a radio transmitter station, the National Museum and Qatar Petroleum HQ. Returning to UK three years later, gave me the opportunity to run materials procurement services for Pakistani and Dutch contractors working in the Middle East.

Development of QS Education at Bristol Polytechnic

Meanwhile, back in Bristol in 1973, Dr Alan Spedding came down from Leeds Polytechnic to take up the post of Head of the new Department Surveying in anticipation of a large increase in student numbers wishing to study Building, Estate and Quantity Surveying.

Ironically, the professional institutions were hesitant about degree courses, thinking they would be too high-level and theoretical.

Work was still underway on the new Polytechnic at Coldharbour Lane, nick-named Colditz by students after the contemporary BBC TV series about a WWII Prisoner of war camp. Consequently, the Department of Surveying was (temporarily) moved into the old Merchant Venturer’s college building in Unity Street.

By this time, the Diploma in BE had developed into the Degree in Quantity Surveying and thence to an Honours Degree. Keeping beneficial links with practice made a strong case for offering a four-year sandwich degree with an industrial placement in the third year. With support from local employers, it soon became the normal study mode.

Interest from the Institute of QSs and contractor’s surveyors to have a graduate entry route, and this combined with economic turbulence over this second half of the 70’s, encouraged Jim Gardner to promote part-time study, which grew to become a major feature of QS course delivery at UWE Bristol.

My return to Bristol Polytechnic as Lecturer

Meanwhile, in 1981, I made a social visit to my tutor Neil Ash, which resulted in my acceptance of a Senior Lecturer post to cover a year’s sabbatical by the QS tutor Bob Murphy, which gave me the opportunity to catch up on significant developments in QSing whilst I had been away. It was unusual for QSs to have higher degrees, and QS tutors normally came from a PQS consultancy background.

The market turbulence of the early 80’s led to growing criticism of the construction industry’s poor productivity, quality of management, disputes and claims culture, in part blamed on the QS profession, and questioned the value of their traditional services, particularly production of bills of quantities for tendering – didn’t they come free with contractor’s quotes?

Thinking that project management might be the way forward for professional development of QSs, I decided to take a new two-year part-time modular Masters programme in Construction Project Management at the University of Reading in 1985.

For a while the Polytechnic ran a separate Construction Commercial Management degree, but this was short-lived with the merger of the RICS & IQS, combined with increasing use of Design & Build procurement, which blurred the distinction between the Consultant / Private Practice QS and the Contractor’s QS. This also encouraged the syllabus to develop with more environmental services and civil engineering content.

The Latham Report, Constructing the Team (1994), and Egan Report, Rethinking Construction (1998), critiqued the adversarial culture in construction, promoting collaborative working and partnering. The focus in the teaching of construction law was changing from understanding standard contract clauses and practice, to methods for reducing legal disputes using alternative methods of dispute resolution and focus on collaborative interprofessional working.

UWE Bristol – New University – New Culture

Bristol Polytechnic became the University of the West of England in 1992 and three separate departments of the former polytechnic, on three separate sites in the City of Bristol, were brought together as the Faculty of the Built Environment on the Frenchay campus in a new building. The three old departments of Construction, Surveying and Planning together became one of the largest built environment faculties in Europe.

The merging of these three, quite culturally disparate, departments onto one site provided the opportunity to be creative in the way students and staff were brought together. Under the new FBE Dean, Prof. Colin Fudge, the teaching and research ethos of the Faculty was founded on Interprofessional Collaboration and Sustainable Development.

Study programmes across the Faculty, from Architecture, Construction, Geography, Surveying and Planning, were designed to incorporate an interprofessional study module in each year. I led the final year Interprofessional Issues module, which had a theme of interdisciplinary teams of students investigating different perspectives on aspects of Sustainable Development to present and defend group presentations. The best presentations were featured in the annual Dean’s Conference on Sustainable Development, which was delivered to an audience of local A-level students of Geography and their teachers. It was sponsored by the Forum for the Built Environment. In 2002, it won the Association of European Schools of Planning first prize for teaching for practice, was the subject of conference papers presented in UK, Belgium and California, became a CEBE best practice case study and included substantial FBEweb open-learning resources.

Involvement with interdisciplinary organisations, such as the Centre for Organisations Relating to the Environment, Constructing Excellence, the Bristol Architecture Centre, West of England Sustainable Construction Network, the Bristol Create Centre, and with built environment research organisations such as RICS COBRA, ARCOM, CIB and FIG have all helped to foster these themes of Interprofessionalism and Sustainable Development.

Internationalisation of the QS Programme

The lead-in to the UK Government’s decision to join the Single European Market (SEM) in 1992, provided the opportunity for the QS team to promote international studies and particularly comparative studies of Construction Economics and the roles of its practitioners across Europe.

In 1990, we started the final year European study visits with visits to Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the massive investment in rebuilding the city had resulted by 1993 in Berlin becoming the largest construction site in Europe and the obvious choice for QS study visits, which then became an annual fixture until Covid-19 interrupted these in 2020.

Redevelopment of the historic city of Potsdam provided the focus for much of the QS study visit project work, with the help of the Technical University of Potsdam, and led to study visit exchanges. The students worked in teams to collate and orally present their study visit project work. As submissions grew to lever-arch file proportions, by the late 90s we moved to digital submissions using web-based techniques to structure information – a useful method for structuring tender documentation in practice. It also provided a useful lead into the pedagogy of learning and an introduction to the potential of digital teaching resources, coursework submission and development of online courses – more on this later.

In preparation for mutual recognition of professions in the European Union, a QS team of John Edge, Cathy Higgs and myself were supported by a grant from Gardiner & Theobald to research and report on the practice of “Construction Economists” in the EU.

With EU Erasmus, Socrates & Leonardo grants, we set up and chaired the COMBEE group (Construction Management & Building Economics in Europe), from 1995 to 2002, promoting staff and student exchanges between the member universities.

Dissertation supervision of a German student from Technical University of Munich led to joint authoring of a paper with Prof. Dr. Peter Mayer on Electronic Tendering, which was presented to the RICS COBRA conference in 2002.

A link with Chalmers Technical University in Gothenburg resulted in UWE hosting, for several years, a residential week as part of their MSc in Project Management for engineers from Swedish Telecom.

Another output in 2000 was a modular scheme for a pan-European Masters Degree in Construction Project Management. This led to further development at UWE into a modular Masters in Construction Project Management, with flexible full-time, part-time and module-gathering options.

A commission with the Overseas Development Agency in the mid 1990s, led to establishment in Budapest of a course on QS practice in procurement and contract administration to Hungarian estimators, who had no previous experience in competitive tendering in public works contracts.

In July 1998, the UWE QS tutors co-authored the QS Strategies report, published by Building and Market Tracking International Ltd, which was described as “The definitive report on successful business strategies in quantity surveying.” The Report was presented to CASLE conferences at the University of Brighton and in Delhi in collaboration with the Institute of Surveyors of India.

As the second Millennium approached, the RICS sought to raise the professional status of Chartered Surveyors by raising educational and qualification standards. The QS Faculty came under increasing pressure to change its name, to change its focus from Measurement to Management and for accredited university courses to be associated with the Red Brick and Russell group universities. This caused great consternation amongst the former polytechnics and UWE in particular, who for a tense couple of years were threatened with losing accreditation.

UWE held to its belief that Measurement was a fundamental core competency for QSs, albeit not constrained to the production of traditional bills of quantities. It found better alignment with the Pacific Association of QS competencies and gained accreditation with the Malaysian Board of QSs.

Nevertheless, with its strong links with QS practitioners and involvement in the RICS Construction Faculty, it was able to reassert its academic status and played a major role in writing the 2002 review of the RICS QS professional competency standards.

Non-cognate Graduate Entry to the QS Profession

In a new approach to promoting membership, the RICS decided to encourage non-cognate graduates to join through a conversion route. In response, UWE developed the Graduate Diploma QS course, which could be progressed to MSc level by completing a Masters Dissertation. This 120 credit programme is based on combining core QS modules from the undergraduate programme with postgraduate modules from the MSc in Construction Project Management. Many other institutions work on a one-year fast track programme, but UWE decided on a three-year part-time route with entry to the course dependent on passing a condensed programme of core QS Level 1 basic studies. These introductory studies, delivered digitally on a CD or online, are assessed by coursework and oral examination and entry is normally contingent on relevant employment. The three-year study normally means the student is sponsored by the employer and has blended learning experience between theory and practice. The course has been very well-supported by consultancy and contractor employers since its start with 15 students in 2004.

As Value for Money and Whole Life Costing gained significance in Built Asset Management, the new Millenium saw the development of the New Rules of Measurement between 2009 and 2014.

With the increasing focus on whole life value for money and life cycle carbon reduction the management of relevant data has become much more challenging, with BIM – Building Information Management now at the leading edge of current interprofessional collaborative practice in construction.

Recent Developments in Teaching & Learning

Millennium developments in digital technology and accessibility of hardware and software encouraged innovation in pedagogy, which particularly benefited part-time students with their limited time on campus, access to library resources and tutors, together with work and family commitments.

A leading example was the Video Project developed by Duncan Marshall & Steve Brown. They produced a complete online teaching package on the principles of traditional and modern house construction, combining onsite video clips, explanatory diagrams and text, self-assessment questions and further reading to cover the first year syllabus for a wide range of construction-related courses.

The Introduction of Blackboard enabled teaching and learning material in various media forms, coursework submission, assessment and online support to be managed through a single portal.

The first fully online course offered in the Built Environment was the MSc International Construction Law from 2007. The course is currently being “rested” but international demand could see it re-open in the future. Online as well as attendance-based courses in MSc Real Estate and Investment and MSc Real Estate Management followed and remain highly successful. The MSC Construction Project Management has recently added an online version as well. All of the Masters programmes can be studied in one full time or two part time years.

UWE Bristol’s investment in the online lecturing format has meant it was well ahead of the curve when blended learning was necessitated by the current pandemic crisis. We had already trial blazed with online negotiation role plays, library workshops and the use of technologies such as padlet,

pebblepad and Blackboard Collaborate. The use of breakout sessions and recording functions means that the blended approach is (almost) as good as the real thing. Nevertheless, for all colleagues the classroom remains the preferred teaching and learning platform.

Another feature of UWE Bristol in the last couple of years has been the diversity of staff, with a doubling of the number of women and ethnic minority staff to 45% and 14% respectively. The Architecture & Built Environment Department achieved the Athena SWAN Bronze Award showing its commitment to equality and diversity across the department.

UWE Bristol has come along way and continues to be a great place whether as a student or staff or stakeholder.