UCL trains Chinese government officials in the latest urban planning approaches

14 February 2017

UCL has recently completed its second round of training for senior Chinese urban planning officials on the latest urban planning research and knowledge.

The problem

China’s rate of urbanisation (i.e. the amount of its population living in an urban area) is around 53%. To achieve its economic goals, it needs to urbanise at a rate more in line with the UK (currently at 79%). Its unprecedented rate of urban development has been largely ad-hoc and unplanned, and the negative effects on China’s environment and the health of its citizens are well documented.

The Chinese government is now looking at more sustainable development and how to reduce the impact on the environment, while improving the quality of life of its city-dwelling populations.

Government officials responsible for the development of their Province are often well versed in economics, accountancy or law, but many do not have core skills in urban planning. Developing strategic plans for urban growth and development in a way that protects and enhances the environment and provides a pleasant and stimulating place for young professionals to live in is a huge challenge for these officials.

They needed to look outwards, at how other developed nations are approaching urban planning. They also needed to understand the latest knowledge and research in these fields and how to adapt and embed this in their own strategies and culture.

The solution

UCL has, over several years, developed a good relationship with various government departments across China. With world-leading experts in many areas of urban design, and the benefit of being in one of the leading cities in the world, UCL was ideally placed to work with the Chinese government in their urbanisation projects.

With UCL Consultants providing contractual and administrative support, David Cobb (Director of Business Development at The Bartlett) used his knowledge and experience of working with the officials to develop a solution.

The delelgation outside UCL

Through the Guangdong Urban Rural Planning Design Institute, a quasi-commercial government department, UCL has now trained around 50 senior government officials from the Guangdong Province over the last 2 years.

In partnership with them, UCL developed a residential executive training programme for groups of around 25 officials coming to the UK for 21 days.

The latest group, from six cities across the Guangdong Province, spent two weeks at the central London UCL campus. They received lectures from leading academics on topics such as developing evidence-based policy; London as a metropolis; cultural, economic and transport links and other areas such as the use of London’s ‘hidden’ underground river networks. They received lectures in the morning, followed by generous Q&A sessions that dealt with their issues and helped them find solutions. They benefited from the intensive interaction with UCL experts and the Chinese PhD and Masters students from The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment.

Afternoons were mainly spent on field visits - exploring key aspects of London and the surrounding metropolis to complement the morning’s lectures and see practical examples. They then had time in the UK to visit other cities and rural destinations to explore different models and examples.

Guangdong officials in the classroom at UCL

The combination of theory, practice and discussions with experts gave the officials a  well-rounded experience of great value to take back into their workplace.

One delegate noted:

" This training course is different from the ones we had previously where you just go through everything quickly and on the surface. This one is an in-depth experience. It presents the best of the culture of London and the future, which should be attributed to the careful arrangement from the organiser. Content is full and format is diverse (lecture, visits, Q&A). The training will be very useful for my future work.”

The future

Officials from Guangdong visiting Canary Wharf

The delegates returned to China with the opportunity to incorporate much of the learning directly into their urban planning projects, and the Faculty will be on hand for any further consultancy.

UCL hopes to offer similar training courses to other Provinces across China.
This training programme will, of course, benefit any developing economy. There are currently plans to adapt it and offer it within various South American countries.

David Cobb noted:

" The feedback and interaction with the Chinese groups has been a fantastically rewarding experience for everyone involved - from the officials, academics and students. I’m excited to be also looking at how the model can be adapted to Mexico, which has some unique urban planning challenges ahead of it. We’re already engaging with our Mexican students and alumni and building relationships with urban planners there in preparation. We see it as a unique opportunity to allow other cities to benefit from our research.” 

More information


Page last modified on 17 June 2016 10:06