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'The RIBA's proposals barely scratch the surface of the root cause of low pay'

The RIBA needs to take quicker, clearer and more measurable steps to tackle low pay and other student problems, says Alison Coutinho

The long wait for clear cut proposals from the RIBA regarding students and low pay is over (AJ 24.06.10) and while the RIBA has made a financial commitment to students through its hardship fund, none of the proposals are forthright enough to address the value of architects. Not only did I expect more proposals but more expedient effective dates for setting employment standards. 

The proposals are described by the RIBA as being ‘rigourous’ however they barely scratch the surface of the root cause of low pay and the undervaluing of architects. The size of the cash injection into the RIBA student hardship fund will be of great assistance to struggling students and as a proposal, it is measurable and has immediate implementation. 

However the timescale for ‘rigourous minimum pay requirements’ to be incorporated into the RIBA Chartered Practice employment criteria in 2011 is bemusing. Implementing changes in the employment criteria is a matter of urgency and I was hoping that the RIBA would take a similar approach to its joint Recovery Taskforce that was set up in association with the ACA.  Innovative kite-flying ideas were generated by a small core group that I was a part of and these proposals were taken forward to national and governmental level with relative immediacy.  Issues were tackled at grass roots level and the profession has already seen the benefits of the Taskforce’s proposals.

I was equally alarmed to read of the RIBA’s campaign for practices to pay employees at least minimum wage for placements over six months.  At this time of uncertainty, temporary and short-term placements are commonplace however they are entirely excluded by the six-month minimum stipulation.  I am also surprised that the campaign fails to account for the amount of experience an applicant might have.  A large cohort of architecture students has graduated this summer and the stock of unemployed graduates is fast increasing. 

At this stage of professional desperation, the RIBA should be making proposals that bypass the long winded labourious reviews by the organisation’s numerous departments and committees.  The RIBA should also turn to other professions to pitch its pay thresholds in line with other professionals.

There are also other wider issues that need consideration and I think there would also be some worth in liasing with the ‘Architects Against Low Pay’ Facebook group. I am sure that a large proportion of its 2850 members have ideas to tackle the exploitation of architects.  We are undervalued as a profession and we also undervalue ourselves by providing such poor working conditions.

To avoid the depressing state of the British employment market, I have temporarily escaped from England and am working for a Toronto-based practice called Raw Design. 

Only three months of my experience will be recognised by the PEDR and I fear that as my debts increase, I will neither have the experience needed for my Part III nor the will to pursue a career as an architect.  I sincerely hope that the RIBA will take clearer measurable steps to safeguard the value of our profession so that we can see changes before 2011.

Alison Coutinho is the ACA Student Representative

The measures to by the RIBA include:

  • Investment of an additional £75,000 into the RIBA student hardship fund for 2010 and 2011: This cash injection treble the funds available and help ‘at least’ another 100 students facing severe financial difficulties to continue and complete their professional education. It will also be available to recent graduates to build suitable portfolios to present to potential employers. The money is in addition to the £106,000 already committed by the RIBA to the scholarship and bursary programme.
  • Improvement of pay and employment conditions: A review group representing the most adversely affected groups: small practices, the student body ARCHAOS, and APSAA will develop changes to the RIBA Chartered Practiceemployment criteria and RIBA Code of Professional Conduct (see AJ 16.09.10), particularly with regards to rigorous minimum pay requirements for all students and professionally qualified employees, to come into effect from 2011. 
  • Internships: Campaigning to remove exemption from paying minimum wage for practical training requirements over 6 months; therefore working to ensure PEDR experience is not classed as an internship.
  • Research into alternative careers: Over half of all students doing Part 1 and 2 validated architecture courses do not become registered architects. In partnership with SCHOSA and the University of Sheffield, the RIBA will be conducting research into destinations for those leaving architecture before completing their professional training, and reviewing courses in architecture to improve employability and the economy.

Readers' comments (2)

  • RIBA lets architects and architecural students down once again. I honestly don't know what good they do for the profession.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • If RIBA doesnt act soon, its safe to say that they will lose a whole generation of upcoming talented architects.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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