In the first in a series of close encounters, new members of professional institutions ask their leaders some tough questions. First up is Kevin Bundy, one of Building’s graduate advisers, who wants the RICS’ new president to explain why the subs are so high, what members get for them and, above all, why the assessment of professional competence is so bloody gruelling. Katie Puckett reports on what happened next

The man with the questions

Kevin Bundy graduated in 1998 with a BSc in project management. The course was accredited by the Chartered Institute of Building rather than the RICS, but he decided to go for his assessment of professional competence (APC) anyway. He passed in November 2005, then joined developer Hammerson in January.

The man with the answers

David Tuffin passed his APC more than 30 years ago and has been joint senior partner of consultant Tuffin Ferraby Taylor since 1973. Come July he’ll be president of the RICS. We persuaded him to meet Kevin at the institution’s headquarters in Westminster to answer some tough questions.

KB Why is the assessment of professional competence (APC) so hard? Doesn’t it put graduates off taking it?

DT I thought that standards were going down in relation to other professions. All we’ve done is bring it back up to where it used to be. We’re not trying to keep anybody out – ironically, raising the standard has meant that more people are coming in. Most talented people want to be stretched; they don’t want an easy route. If something’s easy to get into, people don’t bother to join. I think when our people get their diploma, they are better equipped to do the job than in most other professions.

We do need consistency across all assessors and I have to admit we have not got that at the moment. Some people use the APC as a final examination, but it’s supposed to be a final sieve to keep people out who’d be a danger to themselves and the public, and also to keep out people who see this career as a way of fleecing the public. It’s not a snobbish thing. We’ve got a royal Charter and we have to uphold standards. I would say to people who’ve got their diploma, if you found it tough – and everybody finds it tough – make it better by volunteering to go on these assessment panels as soon as you’re eligible. You’ve got sympathy with these guys and you’re going to ask them the right questions. That’s preferable to people with hair even greyer than mine using it as an opportunity to display their own knowledge.

KB Why is the number of RICS-accredited courses so limited in comparison with other institutions? It’s a lot of pressure on a graduate who’s just passed their BSc to have to start studying for their MSc straight away because the course wasn’t accredited.

DT If you’re coming into the profession, the trick is to do a course accredited by the RICS. The number of courses has increased over the past five years. It was 273 in 2002; it’s now getting on for 300. We do realise there are other courses out there, but we believe the right route is via a direct course or a non-cognate MSc.

KB How are you targeting students picking a uni or college so they know to go for an accredited course?

DT The biggest hurdle is that the people appointed as careers officers in schools and universities get stuff in from all the professions and you have to start re-educating them every year – a teacher will do it for a bit and get fed up. Careers advice is always the Cinderella.

Most talented people want to be stretched; they don’t want an easy route. If something’s easy to get into, people don’t bother to join

David Tuffin

My firm attends a careers fair in Surrey for 16 to 18 year olds. The RICS has been running a schools competition in the South-west for the past four or five years, where local universities go round and give school children a project to design and develop. They’ve taken to it like billyo, and that revs up all the other universities, and all the schools are keen to get on it. We want to roll it out across seven or eight regions.

And we’ve got the MatRICS group [for younger members]. Their principal challenge is to liaise with universities and schools and careers fairs.

KB Why don’t you accredit degrees retrospectively, even if they’ve since been accredited?

DT The RICS assesses the courses when they are submitted for accreditation. Once they are accredited, they have to stick to the plan, so there’s a quality assurance. And the course has to comply with our thresholds for entry standards, teaching quality, research innovation, employability.

It would be total chaos if it was suddenly decided there was a big market for building surveying students and 100 courses all over the country decided to cash in and apply for retrospective accreditation. We’d be swamped. People complain that we’re elitist but I make no apology for that.

KB Are there plans to make the APC training more technology-based. For example, with podcasts you could listen to on the tube?

DT You can do CPD [continuing professional development] online now and APC will be similar. At the moment, the big thing that we’re dealing with in IT is the reconfiguration and development of our website – that’s the key to everything. There’s nothing wrong with podcasts, and I’m sure any medium that is popular and delivers the goods is up for grabs. But the basis of all this has to be a good website.

KB Why are the subscriptions so much higher than those of other bodies? What does our membership actually pay for?

DT I’ve never understood why people get so vexed about paying subscriptions. If you belong to a health club, you pay between £500 and £750 a year to go – or not go – but people quibble about paying £300-odd for an ordinary membership or £450 for a fellowship. It’s dirt cheap and we could do so much more with more money.

The subscriptions are set by the members. There isn’t this RICS thing that we all have to belong to, it’s us – it’s you and it’s me.

The governing council is the members’ representative bit and it’s the council that votes in the subscription rises. The money pays for our business plan, which means that we can fulfil the requirement of our royal charter to act in the public interest and we can raise the status and profile of the RICS.

I’ve never understood why people get so vexed about subscriptions. If you belong to a health club, you pay £750 a year but they quibble about paying £300-odd. It’s dirt cheap

David tuffin

KB But then we have to pay more to go to seminars. Shouldn’t our subscriptions cover that?

DT It’s all designed to give you knowledge, which means you can charge higher fees. The reason you have to pay is that members – not the RICS – agreed that these things should cover their costs. Staff time centrally and in the regions has to be paid for or we’d just pay another way – our subscriptions would go up to £800 or whatever.

It’s not designed to make a profit. If there is really good attendance and a profit is made, it is ploughed back into member services.

If you go to the cinema, you’re looking at £15 before you’ve blinked at the screen. An evening’s CPD – two hours of really good stuff that makes you a better surveyor and you get a supper included – is really good value.

KB I’ve got friends in the US and, and they say the RICS isn’t as well known as I’d imagined. How’s the RICS improving its global profile?

DT There is a very busy agenda in getting influence around the world. We’ve got 130,000 members in 120 countries. The Chinese government has greeted our approaches with particular speed and enthusiasm. It is demanding that we open courses in China. We’ll be looking at India next year and we’ve just signed an agreement with Vietnam. We’re already in the US and Australia. It’s not costing the earth to do this, and the benefit is the influence we can exert on our own government and business community when they see the respect in which we’re held in places like China.

The US has lots of different associations, mainly trade bodies. We’re slowly gaining ground because they still don’t have this concept of a charter or the public good. It’s early days – when we start to get the public interested it will gather pace.

KB If I’ve got a criticism or a suggestion, what do I do? How would I instigate a change?

DT We’ve got a cross-section of membership on the governing council, not just from the UK but from the rest of the world. Everybody has the chance to put their views – you have direct access to your representative on the governing council, direct access to any of the officers or to the honorary secretary. You just have to write in or phone. Address it to the honorary secretary or the president. It may not be the same person who comes back with the answer, but they will ensure that someone replies.

Whatever level you feed it in at, it would be talked about at the strategy resources board. A paper would be written for discussion and voting by the governing council. Any good suggestion will be discussed at management board, put to the governing council and voted on and if necessary, the by-laws changed.