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End for architecture in red-brick universities looming, experts warn

The demise of Cambridge University's Part 2 course could signal the beginning of the end for architectural education in Britain's red-brick universities, experts have warned.

Both the RIBA and the head of schools organisation SCHOSA believe that unless the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) is reformed, many more schools will be forced to go the way of Cambridge.

Cambridge shocked the architectural world last week with its surprise announcement that a cash shortfall was forcing it to make its 2003 diploma intake the last.

RIBA vice-president education Jack Pringle told the AJ that the situation could be the tip of the iceberg. 'The competition for the government's research money is white hot at the moment, ' Pringle said. 'The vice-chancellors in the Russell Group [the red-bricks plus Oxford and Cambridge] are looking at underperforming departments and are asking what is wrong with them.

'What the government doesn't seem to understand is that the schools have a real problem. The research they do is not understood by the Research Assessment Exercise panel as there is nobody involved with the procedure that has even a basic understanding of design research.'

But Pringle also warned that not all the blame can be passed on to others. 'Top schools need to present the work they do in a different way and persuade the government to change the way it dishes out the research cash. Schools also need to carry out more work with industry and with other disciplines as well.

'What the experience of Cambridge shows us is that we have to be very careful to ensure that the tradition of architectural education continues in this country's best universities.'

And SCHOSA's deputy chairwoman, Kate Heron, agreed. 'Several Russell Group universities are struggling because the RAE makes life very difficult. University departments find it very difficult to finance and rarely treat it as an academic subject.

'The top universities could do architecture if they were to employ more research students and staff, ' Heron added. 'But they might well think it is not worthwhile.'

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