Housing study through Chinese eyes

Fei ZhengFei Zheng is not only a part-time student in the MSc Housing and Real Estate programme; she is also working in a Housing Association as a trainee housing officer.  This gave her the opportunity to learn more about social housing, both as a practitioner and as an academic.

I am originally from Beijing and my academic background is in Construction Management.  I also have several years of work experience in Quantity Surveying, Renewable Energy and Green Building within China and the UK.   Having spent most of my life in Beijing I have seen China undergo rapid change, including the construction of many high-rise buildings as well as buildings with exotic designs, all of which continues to change the look and feel of cities like Beijing.  This situation has created many challenges as well as exciting opportunities in housing and real estate. With all the changes going on, China continues to attract an increasing amount of attention from the rest of the world, and it is interesting to see how China is perceived from the UK.

When I first came to the UK I experienced culture shock, but quickly adapted and began to enjoy the life here, and I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to compare what I know about China with the UK.  From my studies I have begun to think about how features of the UK housing system could be used in China, especially as the Chinese state media spends a lot of time talking about social housing in China. Furthermore, with the widespread use of micro blogging sites like Weibo, people now discuss social issues more freely in China.

My opportunity to study at Heriot-Watt University came from a programme through PATH (Scotland)’s positive action project which is to help people from a BME background enter into Housing and related sectors.  Over the course of my studies I have developed a firm interest in the UK’s welfare and social housing systems as they are quite different from those back home in China.

Chinese building
“I have seen China undergo rapid change, including the construction of many high-rise buildings as well as buildings with exotic designs”

I have also found that Housing is a subject which allows me to bring my previous work experience and academic knowledge together.  This course has provided me with very useful knowledge for my current employment, particularly in understanding the role of social housing.  For instance, I have learned how social housing helps to develop the local community and learned a lot about how Housing Associations operate as a charity and business at the same time.

I have really enjoyed studying Housing and Real Estate here at Heriot-Watt University.  What attracted me the most to this course was Heriot-Watt University’s strong reputation for research on the built environment and the quality of the teaching.  The courses are designed in a consistent way that is really suitable for someone like me who does not have a lot of knowledge of the UK housing system, and I was gradually introduced to basic concepts in housing finance, real estate valuation, and then housing law and practice and housing strategic and business management.   The course content combines social housing and commercial real estate which will be extremely helpful for my future career as it provides more choices for finding jobs in both social housing and the real estate industry after graduation.  The professional accreditation from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors is another attractive feature of the course.  Being recognised by these professional bodies means that I can become a student member and attend free student conferences, which allows me to make contacts with housing professionals.  Furthermore, after graduation I will become a chartered member of CIH which will assist me in finding a job in the industry.

fei zhengI have found studying at Heriot-Watt University both challenging and highly rewarding.  There is a lot of individual work as well as group work including discussions and presentations which allow you to develop a variety of skills that will be useful in the future.   For instance, last semester I worked in a group of three on a project for Sustainable Design and Development.  The three of us were from different countries but we worked together really well on the group coursework where we had to produce a design brief for a development site to our hypothetical clients.  We visited the site together, met regularly, filled in each other’s knowledge gaps, and eventually we managed to score the highest mark since the course started.  We became good friends after that as well.

What I have also enjoyed about Heriot-Watt is that the support from the academic staff is excellent.  I was assigned a mentor and was able to discuss issues relating to my studies as well as issues related to my life here in the UK which can be really helpful when adjusting to a new environment.

Currently I am thinking about what to do after the MSc.  One option I am thinking of exploring is continuing my studies at Heriot-Watt by doing a PhD in Housing.  This would allow me to further explore my interests in the UK’s social housing system.  Whether I pursue a PhD or continue working in the housing sector, my time at Heriot-Watt has been extremely useful in helping me decide to pursue a housing-related career.