Campaigners for racial equality have accused schools of architecture of being institutionally racist, with an organisational set up that discriminates against ethnic minorities. Education is the main culprit behind the drought of black and Asian architects in the UK, according to RIBA offshoot Architects for Change.
Sumita Sinha, the organisation's chair, hit out at the schools' choice of syllabus this week - which she said is all too often completely Eurocentric - and the attitude of many lecturers and tutors to ethnic minorities. A failure to make other races feel comfortable in the education system, Sinha told the AJ, is the reason why black and Asian students are three times more likely to drop out of school than their white counterparts.
'When I was tutoring, there were times when I had colleagues say to me that you should never trust a Nigerian or that all Indians think a certain way, ' Sinha said.
And she attacked the track record of the profession in finding placements for year-out students.
'All the good jobs go to the white middle-class students. I've known some of my students to find themselves working in supermarkets for the 12 months, ' she added.
The Society of Black Architects supported Sinha's views.One of its most vocal members, Wilfred Achille, founder of Mode 1 Architects, agreed there is a problem in Britain's schools. 'We need to examine the high fall-out rate in the schools, ' he said. 'The current proportion of ethnic minorities in the profession is two per cent and, incredibly, it is actually shrinking. As we become more diverse in society, architecture needs to match it.We have to ask what the RIBA is doing about it.
'There is currently a real drive to win equal opportunities for women in the profession, ' Achille added. 'Why is there is not the same for ethnic minorities?'
However, Wendy Potts, president of the heads of schools group SCHOSA, disagreed that discrimination is widespread. She said that architectural educationalists are aware of the small number of ethnic minorities in some schools but insisted that this is not due to racism.
'However, we do need to sort out the drop-out rate and ensure everyone has a chance to study architecture in a friendly atmosphere, ' Potts admitted.
Most schools that do have a low ethnic minority rate are in areas that do not have a large ethnic diversity, she added, 'so most of the reasons are geographical.'
CABE is commissioning a major research study into the proportion of minorities in architecture this week. It will attempt to produce a comprehensive statistical breakdown and put together a strategy for recruiting more black and Asian architects.