Case Study M.Plan

Case Study - Masters in Planning and Sustainable Development (M.Plan)

Name: Centre for Planning Education & Research, UCC
Contact: Jeanette Fitzsimons
Programme: Masters in Planning and Sustainable Development (M.Plan)


The M.Plan offers a career path enabling students to join a dynamic profession which makes a difference in the world. Internationally, the Sustainable Development Goals and – more specifically through the UN Habitat reports – highlight the skills of the planning profession as crucial in addressing the global problems associated with the urbanisation, inequality and climate change. M.Plan students gain a critical understanding of the dynamics, practical techniques and fundamental dialogues of place making in the contemporary world. It is educating a new generation of planners; planners who are equipped not only to enter employment in the profession as it has conventionally understood, but a generation of planners who are attuned to new social, political and cultural challenges, contexts, and horizons generated by global processes and new intellectual discourses. M.Plan students enhance their creativity in analysing and imagining places at all scales in local and international locations, while demonstrating strong listening and empathetic skills.


In what context does this initiative/practice take place? 

Planning and sustainable development issues are complex and difficult ones to address, both in Ireland and worldwide. Climate change, economic uncertainty and population changes bring this into sharp focus. The role of professional planners - who have to operate at the interface between land speculation and community needs, ethical action and manifestations of power, bureaucracy and creative place-making becomes more crucial than ever.

The M.Plan is a two-year full-time Masters, professionally accredited by the Irish Planning Institute (Dublin) and Royal Town Planning Institute (London). These rigorous validation exercises ensure that the course meets the highest international standards and that it is well aligned with the needs of the profession – and of employers – and with the contemporary challenges of place-making and sustainable development. Through this course UCC is also a member of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) and the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP).

A 2019 survey of almost 200 M.Plan graduates shows that 35% work abroad (mainly in the UK, USA and Australia) with the remaining 65% having established professional careers in Ireland in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

What was the rationale for introducing this programme? 

When the planning school was founded in 2008, the rationale was to be grounded in humanist values and democratic ideals such as social inclusion, participation in democratic decision making and social justice.

The M.Plan graduate is a reflective, generalist planner with a broad set of planning and personal skills and an insightful capacity to speak to, and engage with, specialists and the wider public during his or her career.

This approach has particular relevance at the present time because of the tendency for decision-making processes – often in highly contested arenas of development, economics and politics – to be defined by the nature of the power relationships that are at play. In this context, a broadly-based, confident and authoritative planning voice can support other specialists, businesses, communities, stakeholders and others in navigating these processes in resilient and sustainable ways for the common good.



UCC’s planning school has resisted pressures and trends towards streamlining and is now one of the few RTPI accredited institutions globally which has retained the two year postgraduate degree model of planning education. This is considered to be an important structural feature of the M.Plan approach. The two year model allows for a much greater breadth and depth of learning and ensures sufficient time and space to accommodate the wide variety of material that is essential for educating planners. In addition, this ensures that students benefit from a curriculum that accommodates a mix of theoretical and applied content that is delivered deliberately and methodically over 4 semesters. This is also essential to facilitate the kind of academic environment that promotes well rounded graduates and which supports the kind professional formation expected by the planning world. Feedback from employers suggests that graduates from M.Plan are benefitting from the comprehensive learning and skills development allowed for within the 2 year model and, critically, this puts them at a distinct competitive advantage in the employment market. Over the two years on the M.Plan, students cover a wide range of practical and theoretical subjects, which are explored on a deeper level on the study visits to the North of England in first year and to a rural and an international destination in second year. On these trips the students apply their acquired knowledge and skills in observing and analysing an unfamiliar place. This develops their skills and reinforces that the knowledge gained in using the Cork region as a laboratory is applicable on an international scale. The range of modules covered across both years is designed to take the students from a grounding in the fundamental principles of planning, housing, infrastructure, theory, urban and regional studies to a more applied and in-depth knowledge of subjects such as landscape, rural, global issues. In addition, a number of modules have skills development at their core, as well as the particular skills of a planner who assesses and prepares plans, strategies and planning applications; the students develop the wider skills of spoken and written communication, engagement with stakeholders and the communities, analysis and design skills of the built environment.
Throughout, there is an emphasis on understanding the perspectives of others and equity for all people in planning. The students engage in individual projects as well as group work, and often are required to reflect on their learning as part of developing their personal skills, which will assist them when they enter the workforce following the M.Plan.

Are there any unique elements?

At its core the M.Plan places emphasis on real-world practice-based learning and the very deliberate attention it pays to local and international study visits, including mandatory learning in the field modules. For example, in the rural module the students learn through a field-based residential week of exploration and exercises and in the international module the students are taken to places that are unfamiliar to them where, by preparing journals of learning, they can reflect in new and challenging environments. Typical visits have included the Oresund region (Denmark / Sweden), The Flemish region of Lille / Brussels and the High Pyrenees (France and Spain).
The real-world learning on the M.Plan is particularly exciting and innovative. The teaching team has established numerous informal partnerships with community groups, trading associations, residents associations and local government bodies all of whom have faced planning and sustainable development challenges of various kinds. By aligning the learning requirements and skills development of the students to the specific needs of these groups, a range of effective projects have been completed over the years. The most recent M.Plan project of this kind was highly commended at an international level by the AESOP in its 2019 Excellence in Teaching Awards. (See -


How has this programme helped the development of 'graduate attributes' in your students?

The M.Plan commitment to the formation of reflective and creative planning practitioners can already be seen in the quality of its graduates. They are well grounded in the normative principles of planning and equipped with broad sets of skills and competencies that can be applied in real-world contexts throughout the world. According to the external examiner (academic), “The students are getting an excellent grounding in planning from studying this programme which compares favourably with the best programmes the externals have seen in Europe.” (2018 report).
The range of competencies and skills developed on the M.Plan are specifically geared towards practice within our discipline but many are more generic. Particular attention is given to visual communication, the management of spatial data, community engagement and consensus building, writing for different kinds of audiences, interdisciplinary working and understanding the political and administrative structures in which most professions have to operate.
Throughout the course, by engaging with communities, politicians, developers, and professionals from other disciplines, lawyers, bureaucrats and activists of various kinds they develop a range of ‘soft’ skills for being effective in present day work settings. They are also reflective: keenly aware of the common good purpose of their work, adaptable and value-driven and informed by strong spatial and environmental ethics.

Students also acquire time management skills and they learn how to put together proposals or tenders for professional services in competitive environments. They also have a strong grounding in Irish and Environmental Law and a range of drawing and design skills as well.

How are you going to make Graduate Attributes development explicit in the expression of the Curriculum and Learning Outcomes?

The Learning Outcomes for both modules and the programme align with the Education Guidelines of both the accrediting bodies of the Programme – the Irish Planning Institute and the Royal Town Planning Institute, as well as the University’s guidelines.
In considering the M.Plan programme learning outcomes outlined below, those graduate attributes and values prioritised by the UCC Academic Strategy are clearly imbedded.
• PLO1. Apply a creative capacity for the formulation of realistic and imaginative plans and strategies;
• PLO2. Demonstrate informed decision making and communication in planning;
• PLO3. Foster and communicate an in-depth appreciation of values, society and environmental settings;
• PLO4. Apply spatial understandings of the nature of place, quality of life and physical networks to contemporary cities, towns, regions and landscapes;
• PLO5. Recognise the real-world legal, economic and political contexts within which planning operates;
• PLO6. Demonstrate an applied appreciation of stakeholder roles and relationships in contemporary planning;
• PLO7. Apply specialised engagement with the theories, dialogues and techniques of sustainable development.

Graduate Attributes Programme

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