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Brain drain abroad hits UK architecture schools

A failure to fill senior academic posts is threatening standards in architectural education and research, experts have warned.

Heads of schools and education specialists are dismayed that the best academic minds are being lost in a brain drain to foreign universities and commercial practice.

Vacant chairs of architecture are at an all-time high and universities are struggling to fill senior posts because of low pay and poor employment conditions, they warned this week.

The University of Liverpool's David Dunster said the problems are making senior posts deeply unattractive. 'Who in their right mind would do it these days?' he asked. 'Universities are desperately cash-strapped and the bureaucracy is vast.'

And his head of school Simon Pepper agreed, saying that there are massively unrealistic expectations of senior architectural academics.

'They want a distinguished practicing architect, a teacher with a proven track record, a researcher with a high rating and someone prepared for a lot of administration, all wrapped into one, ' he said. 'It is completely unrealistic.'

He added: 'Many are going abroad. The Americans pay senior academics better, and have bigger and more respected schools. They allow staff far more freedom. Is it any surprise so many are thinking of going?'

The University of the West of England's head of school Richard Parnaby echoed these concerns. 'I can think of schools which have advertised a post, got no one, re-advertised, still got no one and been forced to leave the vacancy empty, ' he said.

'It is very difficult to get the right people for these posts, ' he said. 'What successful practitioner would seriously consider giving up private practice to commit to a load of mundane work?'

RIBA vice-president for education Jack Pringle told the AJ that there are five chairs of architecture vacant, which include Nottingham, Lincoln, Dundee and East London.

However, Pringle said he believed the recently published Education White Paper could help ease the recruitment crisis. 'One of the key objectives is to improve pay for very senior staff and improve their conditions, ' he said.

Wendy Potts, president of the heads of schools body SCHOSA, said it was an exaggeration to describe the situation as a 'crisis'. 'But there are problems with recruiting people from practice because business is so buoyant, ' she added.

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