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Education is the starting point for combating racism

editorial

Today the Prince of Wales is to deliver the first Stephen Lawrence Memorial Lecture. His subject - the low level of ethnic minority involvement in architecture - is highly topical. Frank Dobson has just agreed to back a campaign to investigate a case where an architect has alleged institutional racism within the capital's planning authorities, and the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has stated its intention to investigate businesses where the proportion of staff from ethnic minorities is smaller than in the community as a whole (see pages 26-27).

The cause currently has many articulate and knowledgeable spokespeople, and there will doubtless be those who will ask whether a white, non-architect from a background of such extraordinary privilege is the right person to be making such a speech. But the prince is well qualified for the task. He has the high profile that ensures that he will be listened to, but he also has the ability to speak about issues in a way which is likely to strike a chord not only (or necessarily) with architects but with the population as a whole. After all, he has, literally, had a lifetime of training. Just as importantly, he is actively involved in architectural education and - for better or for worse - has devoted much of his time to questioning the conventions by which it is governed.

In architecture, where potential employees belong to a finite and very clearly-defined pool, the CREmay find that it is simply not realistic to tell practices who they ought to employ. The onus of responsibility lies not only with employers but primarily with schools of architecture. The RIBA has estimated that about 12 per cent of students in UK architecture schools are from the ethnic minorities, suggesting that practices would have to struggle to meet the CRE's recommendation that the percentage of staff from ethnic minorities should be about 25 per cent in London and 15 per cent in smaller urban areas. Logically, the CRE ought also to investigate schools of architecture which are discriminating against ethnic minorities at the admissions stage; and/or running courses in such a way that - for whatever reason - students from ethnic minorities do not perform as well as they could.

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