Housing Studies Oral History

Our Story


Housing Studies team Housing is essential for everybody. People live in houses, they rent them, buy them, sell them, do them up, heat them and guard them as precious assets. But it is a rare privilege to be able to study housing. Yet that is what students have been doing at Stirling since 1980. And already some of the earliest students have retired from professional life at the end of a rewarding career! The course was first established as a postgraduate full time programme with a handful of 2 year bursaries from the Scottish Office (as it was then). This unusual development came on the back of a hugely critical report to government about poor competence in council house management. The report argued the case for professionalising management of housing, then mostly owned by councils. The Scottish Office felt it had to act. Students weren’t exactly flocking to Stirling in the 70’s, following a controversial reception to a royal visit to the then very new, almost embryonic, university. It was hoped that new professional programmes (including housing) would help boost student numbers. Stirling didn’t exactly replicate courses already in place elsewhere in UK! in 1980 the only route to qualification for the professional body – the then Institute of Housing – was by self–directed distance learning and regular written examination. No other university ‘taught housing’ so Stirling broke new ground creating a course and to do so, importing relevant expertise from different departments and from the local technical college. Only later did postgrad and undergrad courses spring up at universities and colleges elsewhere across UK. Another course was established at Heriot–Watt and the two universities collaborated well for many years, with each other and with the validating body (later known as the Chartered Institute of Housing - CIH). Eventually in 1990 this prompted them to share the foundation of a new part time programme for people working in housing in Edinburgh and the east of Scotland since a course at the University of Glasgow already covered metropolitan west of Scotland.

Next steps:

town by The Digital Artist Pete  Linforth By this time the right to buy, introduced in 1980, had changed the landscape of Scottish housing and many hundreds of thousands of homes built by local government were now owned by their occupiers. Councils were fast becoming minority landlords and expected to focus as much on enabling, as on providing and managing competently. Housing associations were more politically popular and targetted for new funding, while investment in council housing renewal and repair was weak, and withdrawal of financial support to council housing made for ever higher rents. With increasing unemployment in post-industrial Scotland, more tenants came to depend on state support to pay the rent, creating a spiral of dissatisfaction and decline. Our full time and part time courses continually attracted people who could see these problems and wanted to be part of solutions. The courses attracted women and men, young and mature, with degrees in diverse disciplines - microbiology, zoology, sociology, politics, history to name a few, as well as people who had never been to university, as part of widening access for those with worthwhile professional experience. Disabled students were welcomed and many graduated and went on to work in the sector, as did students from BAME communities and former refugees. Full time students undertook assessed, in-depth work experience placements with a variety of housing employers, while part time students got the chance for a day each week to step back from the rough and tumble of daily housing work. All students were expected to reflect on their work, its contribution to social life, how services and systems might improve and so on. Over time the two student groups increasingly learned together cross fertilising their ideas about theory and practice, with the occasional creative tension to keep things lively! There was often a field trip to pastures new, usually in cities in the British Isles but occasionally further afield to mainland Europe. Wherever the field trips went, it was a chance for students and staff to bond, and grow together in understanding how housing systems worked.


apartments by Pixabay Technology started to affect life everywhere in the 7’0s. Automated rent accounting systems had started to come into housing practice from the late 70s and later began to impact on the organisation of repairs. In universities academic typically relied on acetate slides hand drawn in coloured inks, or had secretarial staff create type-written acetates and hand-outs for distribution in classrooms. During the 90’s academic staff started each to have their own pc on their desk. When the new, exciting internet came, staff attended training courses in how to construct ‘online’ searches. And the more training we had, and the more relevant material was available online, the more we could see possibilities for utilising technology differently - to teach, reaching students for whom daily or weekly attendance was impossible. A report in 2001 on our track record boasted Firm Foundations. Sadly at that time the university didn’t accept the business case for investing in an online programme: by then universities generally valued research much more than teaching. But a chance encounter with a key contact at the sector skills body - Assetskills, led to a successful partnership application to the ESF (European Social Fund) in 2003 to support investment in additional staff time and training. This proved exceptionally valuable both technically and pedagogically. Academic staff were challenged to prepare content more imaginatively, informed by new considerations about how the material would look online and how it would be used by students. The technical support team uploaded materials into agreed structures and helped with troubleshooting during the regular interactive sessions with students. This all helped to build confidence amongst staff and students.

And now?

students on field trip Since 2005, new students have experienced blended learning, now commonplace post-pandemic. Periodic face-to-face teaching requiring attendance in person, complements regular interactive work online, over eight separate modules assessed by a variety of methods. The students who trailblazed the blended programme were pleasantly surprised with how much they enjoyed the programme! And how well they had learned. For the teaching team, blended learning meant much more transparency about each module and assessment, providing a richer creative and integrative team experience. External examiners testified to the quality and effectiveness of the programme. Stirling now attracts students from many different countries, not just Scotland. The quality of the Stirling student experience has always been highly regarded. New graduates access better work opportunities even with minimal experience. Those with prior experience and the qualification embark on better career progression than without the Stirling course. The post-pandemic, post-Grenfell context for housing education is very different to 1980 - socially, economically, politically, technologically, environmentally, all relevant to housing. The housing programme has impacted significantly on professional practice, not least in Scotland, rising to the improvement challenge of that report in 1977. A course like housing studies cannot stand still in what it teaches, or how. Built on ‘firm foundations’, housing at Stirling certainly moves with the times.