Architectural education in the UK might never be the same again, if plans being mooted by the RIBA come to fruition.
RIBA councillors are meeting today (Thursday) to discuss a radical shake-up of architectural education that could revolutionise the way architects qualify.
Put forward by RIBA vice-president for education Simon Allford, the proposals would greatly increase the way architecture students can earn their professional stripes.
Although currently in the very early stages of being formulated, the plans would allow students to get academic recognition for work in practice.
Allford's proposals also allow for the creation of a master's-style 'conversion course' that would help graduates from related disciplines wanting to change to architecture.
Reactions to the plans, which would scrap the distinction between 'Part 1' and 'Part 2' if they come into effect, have been mixed.
The ARB, one of the key consultees on the delivery of any changes, has outlined one key proviso - keep it simple.
Jon Levett, head of education at the ARB, says: 'There's a strong message from students which says we shouldn't make the system too complicated. Their view is - we don't want something that is too hard to understand.' The Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture (SCHOSA) - which represents the heads of UK architecture schools - is keen to take credit for any changes if and when they occur. It claims it introduced the RIBA to the current concept two years ago in the Delft Declaration.
SCHOSA president and University of Westminster architecture chair Kate Heron says: 'I do think that there is currently some ambiguity between schools and practice.' But she is keen to stress that practice-based learning should be 'in partnership' with academic work, rather than 'a replacement' for it.
Heron also claims that if some of the planned changes are adopted - the earliest date being suggested is 2008 - students could qualify in four years, reducing expenditure on living costs and fees.
Currently, students can accrue as much as £50,000 worth of debt.
And the changes come as the planned introduction of top-up fees for the September 2006 intake will add thousands of pounds on to students' costs.
This concern is re'ected in his proposal for RIBA Council, compiled with RIBA acting director of education Chris Ellis.
It says: 'It is timely to offer a statement of the RIBA's position on these issues, as 2006 will see the introduction of the new fee regime.
'Although the impact of top-up fees cannot be foreseen, it is reasonable to assume that students will be looking for new routes to full qualification.' Broadly speaking, the architectural schools are known to be in favour of the changes, because a shortening of the courses will allow them to compete with other subjects for the attention of school-leavers.
And the more students the schools get, the less likely it will be that they will come under the cosh from pennypinching university bursars.
Student body ARCHAOS also welcomed the changes, although, again, as long as some key considerations are taken into account.
Co-chair Alison Killing says she felt the proposals would make it 'less likely that students will fall out of the system'.
Although she adds that there should be key 'waypoints' before the final architectural qualification is achieved, and it should be made easy for people to change schools during the course of their degree.
'We still believe there is a major role for full-time courses, however, and would not want to see part-time courses being advanced as a sole solution to the 'nancial problems students face, ' she concludes.
REWRITING THE VALIDATION CRITERIA - TIMETABLE
Mar to Sept 2006
RIBA/SCHOSA working group to draft new validation criteria; consultation with ARB
Draft approved by the RIBA, the ARB and SCHOSA for consultation
Oct to Dec 2006
Wide consultation Jan to Mar 2007 Final refinement and separate approval by the RIBA and the ARB
Validation criteria approved by the RIBA and the ARB and published
New validation criteria implemented: by the RIBA for validation and by the ARB for prescription