Underpaid, undervalued and under-resourced. No wonder UK academics are succumbing to the temptation to work abroad. The situation has not been helped by the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which assigns every university research department a grade, with implications for funding and morale. Not one UK school of architecture received the highest 5* rating in the most recent RAE. It is not clear whether the fault lies with the schools or the validation process, or a combination. The good news is that the RIBA has faced up to the fact that it can wield its influence over both.
Initial funding has been allocated to a Research and Development Department, to act as a 'dating agency' between research institutions and those who could benefit from their work. There is ample evidence that the discipline of architectural research can deliver a product for which practitioners are prepared to pay.
Pringle Brandon, for example, credits much of its success to its own research into the impact of emerging IT on the workplace, while Foster and Partners has employed the services of the Bartlett's Space Syntax Laboratory for various projects over the years.With proper knowledge of the requirements of practices and funding bodies architectural research can be more focused and more useful - with obvious knock-on implications for motivation, resources and prestige. In the meantime, the department has pledged to join schools of architecture in lobbying to change those elements of the Research Assessment Exercise which disadvantage architecture - notably the shortage of architects on a 'catch-all'built environment assessment panel that is currently weighted towards construction and surveying. (There is some debate as to whether it would be better to lobby for more architect assessors for an architecture-specific panel, which sounds great but could disadvantage departments which carry out interdisciplinary research. ) Co-chaired by RIBA heavyweights Jack Pringle (vice chair of education) and Richard Saxon (vice chair of practice), the new department could carry real clout. It's been a long time coming, but it seems the RIBA has at last demonstrated its commitment to university research.