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ARB must clarify its position on exams

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Towards the end of last year there were three emissions concerning the work of the ARB that, taken together, I found puzzling.

First, there was an advertisement that included the statement that 'one such route to registration is the board's own prescribed examination', seeking applicants to act as 'independent examiners'. Secondly, there was a lengthy letter from Dr Jon Levett (AJ 11.11.04), defending the board's decision to raise its fee to almost £1,000 'per part for examination', referring in various places to 'examining candidates', 'a panel of examiners', and so on. Lastly, there was Alan Crane's letter (AJ 9.12.04) mentioning the notification to the RIBA of 'which candidates have passed the examination'.

I was puzzled because I cannot find anywhere in the act authority for the board to formulate or conduct examinations and, in any case, if there were such authority, would it not be another weakness of the act in that it would create a conflict of interest for a board charged with prescribing the qualifications of other bodies - in effect, giving it a duplicating role and unusual power in the examinations 'marketplace' already occupied by the schools and the RIBA?

Moreover, in a context where all examinations are subject to external scrutiny and validation, who has validated and approved an ARB examination? And who would claim that an hour or two's interrogation by examiners could be equivalent to what is now commonly understood by the word 'examination' in terms of the detailed processes leading to Parts 1, 2 and 3, and thereafter to the qualifications with which the ARB is properly concerned?

So, in my opinion, there might be a serious problem here - however, it occurs to me that there may rather be a confusion of terminology in what has thus been expressed on behalf of the ARB.

The clue lies in Levett's statement that 'the [examination] procedure relates to eligibility for registration with the ARB for those with non-prescribed (normally non-UK) qualifications', and in Crane's corresponding reference to 'the best interests of those foreign architects'.

On this interpretation, the ARB is not conducting examinations and should cease stating that it is - it is assessing unfamiliar qualifications on the basis of documentary evidence, provided by individuals who are available for oral questioning on their qualification background by the ARB's expert representatives (not 'examiners'), so that it may be determined if what they have is equivalent to a prescribed qualification; that is, it is the qualification that 'passes' or 'fails', not the individual. Or is it seeking to evolve an assessment process (with the benefit of a hugely increased fee income) into an examination system, something quite different and of doubtful legitimacy?

I expect that the ARB will be able to clarify the position immediately. When it does so, I wonder if we can also be told what proportion of Crane's 'foreign architects' possess qualifications directly validated by the RIBA as part of its international system - presumably they should be entitled to a less burdensome and costly process, if needing (re)assessment at all?

Peter Gibbs-Kennet, via email

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