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Architectural students must be properly equipped to practise

In deciding whether a professional has acted negligently, the standard against which courts measure performance is that of a reasonably competent person acting in that field. So think carefully before you claim skill or knowledge that is beyond that expected of an architect of 'average' competence, and do not let your ego override your interests! It is surprising that professional indemnity companies do not increase premiums for architects claiming special expertise - but that is another issue. I want to tell you about two initiatives that will examine the performance of schools of architecture as 'suppliers' of architects.

First, consider the duties of architects in practice. Should they, for example, know that 'Carlite' plaster is hydroscopic, or how to specify a cladding subcontract package?

Should an architect understand how to analyse claims for extensions of time, or how to assess a bricklayer's work? There has been a substantial shift over recent decades in the 'focus' of teaching, in particular the drift from interest in construction and technology.

The reduced involvement of practising architects, both as part-time studio teachers and critics, has also led to a culture in schools that is far less appreciative of the importance of professional competence among practitioners. There has, however, been no corresponding shift or reduction in the courts' views regarding the extent of an architect's responsibilities. If anything, the courts have become more demanding.

The picture is, of course, not consistent.

Some schools still provide rigorous teaching in construction - far more demanding than my own education - but the shifts I have described are increasingly common.

Does this matter? Well, possibly not if the graduate moves into other fields of work, but for those students who wish to practise, the quality and scope of their education is of profound concern. Will they be able to hold down employment or perform adequately against their own commissions? Is the education they are receiving appropriate to their future needs?

To test this, the RIBA has commissioned an independent survey of 500 architects who have registered with the ARB over the past five years. The questions are designed to test the strengths and weaknesses of the education system as a preparation for practice.

In parallel, the RIBA is setting up a group to examine the performance of practice over the past 10 years in order to establish trends in the types of claims being made and in the weaknesses they reveal about architects in practice. It will comprise professional indemnity insurers, barristers and solicitors drawn from the areas of both plaintiff and defence work, as well as expert architects.

The ARB has been invited to join the RIBA in considering the outcome of these studies which should, of course, have profound implications, both for those who 'consume' education (the students) and those who provide it (the teachers). Some course directors and teachers will be very critical of such initiatives, but they should reflect before condemning them out of hand. Students give enormous time to their studies, forgoing substantial earnings in the process, and they and their sponsors pay heavy fees. It is important that the education they receive meets their requirements, and the RIBA 's investigations intend to explore that question.

Furthermore, registered architects are obliged to meet standards of competence that are 'measurable', as applied by our courts of law, across a scope of work that is defined by our terms of engagement. Our profession must therefore ensure that those involved in educating architects focus their teaching appropriately, and deliver useful and effective programmes that properly prepare those students who will in due course assume such responsibilities.

Alternatively, the RIBA may consider amending its standard appointment forms to reflect less onerous responsibilities appropriate to different areas of interest and competence. But I can't see that going down well with a profession that reckons it has already lost too much ground to its competitors.

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