The Bartlett School of Planning


South Africa Planning Education Research (SAPER)

This research focused on the needs and challenges faced by planning practitioners and the wider implications with regard to the internationalisation of planning education.

Birds eye view of houses in a rural setting in South Africa

1 April 2024


The South African Higher Education (SAPER) project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK and the NRF in South Africa under the Newton Fund scheme. It was developed in close partnership with two planning accreditation bodies, the South African Council for Planners (SACPLAN) in South Africa and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) in the UK and with the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP). It looked at the appropriateness, usefulness, and impact of contemporary Higher Education urban planning in South Africa. This research focused on the needs and challenges faced by planning practitioners (with a key interest in early-career planners) and the wider implications with regard to the internationalisation of planning education. Urban planning is considered a scarce skill in South Africa but plays a crucial role in tacking spatial and social segregation, inherited from apartheid, while addressing other challenges (e.g. housing provision, health and wellbeing). This project has been of key relevance to link urban development challenges to pressures inherent to economic development, and the need to address welfare and create more sustainable urban environments, particularly for the poorest and more vulnerable communities. Gaps were identified in training provision, pre and post-graduation and recommendations were developed to better address skill shortages, the unbalanced distribution of planners across the country and find ways to better support and mentor early-career practitioners. We demonstrated that planners find themselves negotiating between often contradictory and conflicting strategies. This has a significant impact on (international) planning education and practice, especially given that planning education tends to retain a technocratic approach to training, with little to no content on navigating this web of contradictory strategies by different stakeholders.

This project ran from 2016 to 2020.

People and collaborators

Professor Lauren Andres (Lead PI), The Bartlett School of Planning
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Dr Phil Jones
University of Birmingham

Dr David Adams

Dr Mike Beazley

Mr. Stuart Denoon-Stevens (PI)

Professor Verna Nel

Dr Elsona Van Huyssteen

Dr Emmie Smit

Martin Lewis


Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
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National Research Foundation (NRF)
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We produced a range of outputs which are listed below:


Andres, L., Denoon-Stevens, S. and Jones, P. (2023) Planners, blended (in)formality and a public interest of fragments, Planning Practice & Research, 10.1080/02697459.2023.2247249

Denoon-Stevens, S., Andres, L., Nel, V. Jones, P. (2022) Unpacking planners' views of the success and failure of planning in post-apartheid South Africa, Cities, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2022.103867

Jones, P., Andres, L., Denoon-Stevens, S., & Melgaco Silva Marques, L. (2021). Planning out abjection? The role of the planning profession in post-apartheid South Africa. Planning Theory, doi.org/10.1177/14730952211012429

Andres, L., Bryson, J. R., Denoon-Stevens, S. P., Bakare, H., Toit, K. D., & Melgaço, L. (2021). Calling for responsible inclusive planning and healthy cities in Africa. Town Planning Review: Volume 92, Issue 2, 92(2), 195-201. doi:10.3828/tpr.2020.49

Adams, D., Andres, L., Denoon-Stevens, S. P., & Melgaço, L. (2020). Challenges, opportunities and legacies: experiencing the internationalising of UK planning curricula across space and time. Town Planning Review: Volume 91, Issue 5, 91(5), 515-534. doi:10.3828/tpr.2020.29

Denoon-Stevens, S. P., Andres, L., Jones, P., Melgaço, L., Massey, R., & Nel, V. (2020). Theory versus Practice in Planning Education: The View from South Africa. Planning Practice & Research, 1-17. doi:10.1080/02697459.2020.1735158

Andres, L., Jones, P., Denoon-Stevens, S. P., & Lorena, M. (2020). Negotiating polyvocal strategies: Re-reading de Certeau through the lens of urban planning in South Africa. Urban Studies, 57(12), 2440-2455. doi:10.1177/0042098019875423

Andres, L., Denoon-Stevens, S., Bryson, J. R., Bakare, H., & Melgaço, L. (2023). Planning for sustainable urban livelihoods in Africa. In The Routledge handbook on livelihoods in the Global South. Routledge.

Denoon-Stevens, S., Andres, L., Lewis, M., Nel, V., Van Huyssteen, E., & Melgaco, L. (2023). Developing engaged pedagogy and inclusive approaches towards place-making in South African townships and informal settlements. In Engaged Urban Pedagogy: Collaborative Inquiry for Planning and Place-Making. UCL Press.


SAPER briefing note - Challenges, opportunities and legacies: experiencing the internationalising of UK planning curricula

SAPER briefing note - Bridging the gap: the candidacy phase - October 2018

SAPER briefing note - Matching needs: planners in local government - October 2018

SAPER Briefing Note: Teaching App & Platform - December 2017

 SAPER Briefing Note:: Results from the SAPER survey with South African planning professionals

Related links

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Visit the South Africa Planning Education Research (SAPER) website

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Image by Lauren Andres