The planning as a profession in India is synonymous with either party/event planning or smart cities, nothing more, nothing less. Only a few know what planning as a profession and course of study is in India. And when one does, the picture has varied shapes and colours for those who are either a part of this professional or academia pool and for those outside this pool.
Image from – https://jokohok.info/navi/o/city-quotes/ [accessed on June 13, 2018]
For the usual Indian pupil graduating from 10th grade and entering the last two years of secondary school, the remainder of their education is usually about deciding what they want to do after graduation, which for some, narrowly means the kind of job they want to pay their bills. More often than not, the choice has been between medicine or engineering, with past decades witnessing a change and significant proportion of students now opting for business studies, law, economics, arts and humanities, but only a few opting for the architecture stream. One would hardly find anyone who knows about planning as a field of study and wants to pursue it after finishing school.
For 98 per cent students you come across in the first year of planning studies, you come to realise you are not alone when you say: I am pursuing planning because I could not get into architecture. Yes, it is a sad truth. If one wants to study within India, a student finishing high school and seeking entry into a college has to go through entrance examinations. Architecture and planning have a common test, which includes NATA (http://www.nata.in/) and AIEEE (https://jeemain.nic.in/webinfo/Public/Home.aspx). Each has a different list of colleges it provides entrance to. In some sense, AIEEE has the list of better graded and ranked schools in India, including the National Institute of Technology, the School of Planning and Architecture, etc. But clearing the exam is not enough. Based on your score, you are given an All India Rank which ultimately determines where you will land up for the next 4 to 5 years.
These 4 to 5 years are not what you expect, as is said by every teenager who graduates school with great hopes of becoming an adult and entering college life. Some might fall in love with the college and field they enter, while others might curse every day. Some will also actually end up working in a different field after under-graduation- like business studies, law, interior design; basically any field that has better future prospects than planning. But one thing is common for all: your biological cycle and sleeping and eating patterns become dysfunctional. You get accustomed to 3-4 hours of sleep for weeks on end and sometimes wonder why you didn’t opt for medicine (in my case at least, as I left medicine to pursue architecture, but ended up studying planning at undergraduate level and started loving it from the second year onward).
All personal experiences and perceptions apart, planning is not a last resort to think of. True, in India planning is still under-recognised and even mistaken for events planning or simply smart cities, in light of the political impetus on smart cities in past 4 years. It is difficult to find good jobs in planning and if you do, they usually do not pay well. You earn less than an engineer or medical resident or a lawyer or for that matter many other liberal professions. Even after your master’s you might end up earning the same amount that you were getting after your bachelor degree. So, yes it is disheartening at times.
Recently, many graduate planners have been switched fields to business studies or pursuing a master’s abroad. For many years I did not understand the appeal of the latter. Earning an MBA is sure to get you into a higher pay band, but why spend lots of money and relocate abroad to apply to a master’s programme, earn a student visa, work a few years and then return home, or re-apply for visa to work further. The answer that I am able to articulate so far is: better recognition and a whole lot more opportunities, especially for young planners.
A student with average grades and work experience that graduates from a planning school in Europe, Australia or the United States of America, has much better chances to not just earn better but learn more from practical job experiences than a top-notch student graduating from one of the best colleges in India. The former have access to tremendous variety of conferences, lectures, entrepreneurs who are working in the field and would be happy to support and guide you. While in India, more often than not, you will find your friends competing against you. It is not ranting, but a fact. The limited availability of decent jobs, especially for a women planner, plays a critical role.
But yes, if you do love planning and everything that has to do with it, you have to think beyond that and explore opportunities for yourself. The road may be tougher than the rest, but if you are willing to take a step, the end result can be fulfilling or not, that’s debatable based on personal experiences (which I would like to learn of from my colleagues around the world).