Short-term 'masters'- the bane of quantity surveying
While the standard of education has improved across the board
locally, it has not improved evenly or appropriately. One of the areas
lagging behind in standards is Quantity Surveying, mainly due to lack of
a regulated scheme and qualified resource personnel.
Quantity surveying is a cost and value discipline in construction
works where inputs and outputs are measured, priced and paid to a
standard or agreed methodology. Yet narrowly defined, the topicality of
quantity surveying has been accentuated by the fact that if actual costs
exceed predicted costs, the viability of the project vanishes, possibly
leaving the client bankrupt, the building abandoned and resources
wasted, creating disputes.
Education and training in quantity surveying should be proactive,
reflecting global changes in the practice of the profession. However,
inadequate funding, dearth of lecturers in the field, poor
infrastructural facilities and teaching aids, non-existence of a uniform
academic calendar and lack of awareness about the discipline, and dearth
of textbooks contribute to poor standards.
The trend for masters degrees in quantity surveying is an example
where the logic behind traditional masters degrees is either forgotten
or disregarded. Academics would in any way accept the fact that masters
degrees are geared, nurtured and fostered for practitioners who really
need academic fill-ups in individual career progression.
For example, those who have a BA in civil engineering have the
opportunity to follow a masters degree in structural engineering or
transportation engineering to specialize in a particular segment of
knowledge. Quantity surveying, primarily by profession, is clearly
delineated from the other allied professionals in the construction
Quantity surveying has been developed with the subject elements of
mathematics, economics, construction technology, law and management so
that any secondary discipline that the industry exactly looks for can be
There can be masters in cost modelling, bidding strategies, claim
management, value management, contract administration, construction
procurement or development appraisals for those having a basic degree in
However, it is unfortunate to see that these short-term 'masters'
have become a short cut for membership of some professional entities.
The most glaring anomaly is that these masters programs are conducted on
a distance education basis, limited to a little coursework, sometimes
without any lecturer interaction. Ironically, the number of learning or
contact hours approximates to a one-sixteenth of a full-time internal
Similar to masters, lateral top-up degrees are the norm in modern
education circles in many countries where liberal education policies
have been adopted. However, this should not mean to open a flood gate.
The question of 'top up' must be wholly left for academicians to decide
on the appropriate placements considering a host of factors; such as
course curriculum, lecturer and supervisor interaction, number and depth
of course work, dissertations, in-plant training, workshops and student
presentations, industry visits, group work, video and audio
presentations, debates and various other university specific elements.
It has no injustice to say that the integral parts of a basic degree
should be closely followed before the grant of appropriate placement in
top up degrees for technical level industry personnel.
All challenges facing quantity surveying education cannot be possibly
discussed in a single article. Previous research highlighted many
problems and offered possible solutions, though some of the proffered
solutions are impracticable. Though simplistic in face-value, these
solutions can revamp the profession if adopted collectively and
spiritedly. It is only logical that the situation in the industry
reflects what obtains in academia.
More importantly, basic degree level qualifications that are now
sought by prospective employers and will be a boon to Sri Lankan
students seeking a quantity surveying degree to further their ambitions
of gaining employment in a field offering attractive remuneration and
opportunity for migration. This essentially warrants proper training and
competence the basis of which should admittedly be a structured form of
education backed by broad theoretical and scientific know-how.
However, a large number of private universities and institutions in
Sri Lanka offer foreign degrees or so-called 'equivalents' without any
concern over fundamentals specific to techno-based education programs.
A good library and student resource centre with adequate reading and
study material, computer laboratories with up-to-date hardware and
software and high-speed internet connections, fully-equipped engineering
and science laboratories, classrooms with proper seating, space and
basic facilities such as multimedia and internet are considered to be
the absolute minimum for any university student.
Therefore, parents must be vigilant in the choice of advertised
affiliations to various foreign universities which has unfortunately
become a fashion for short-term on-the-job courses.
Common entrance and exit needs are often used as quality proxies
which are an integral part of any accreditation scheme. Accreditation is
the process in which certification of competency, authority, or
credibility is presented.
The standards for accreditation are generally set by a peer review
board to ensure that the certification practices are acceptable,
typically meaning that they are competent to test and certify third
parties, behave ethically and employ suitable quality assurance.
However, simply starting courses without having the basic facilities
including the resource personnel qualified in quantity surveying is
cheating innocent parents and children.
Under such circumstances, a State mechanism to regulate quantity
surveying education has become more significant than ever. Indeed, no
one would object to privately initiated education as long as it is
spearheaded by a central coordinated arm.
The Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Sri Lanka (IQSSL) sets standards
for quantity surveying education as stipulated by Parliamentary Act No
20 of 2007. If anyone ignores this aspect of standards, by-passing the
institute, it cannot be overlooked easily. Quality is never an accident;
it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent
direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many
The writer is a Chartered Quantity Surveyor.