Proposals to introduce a minimum wage for student architects were rejected last week by the RIBA's ruling council after deep splits emerged between council members on the issue.
Student campaigners had called for the RIBA to enforce a minimum wage for work experience of between £10,000 and £12,000 a year, but the proposal was kicked into touch after a heated debate. A number of minor measures to tackle the problem of low pay were introduced instead.
The move is a blow to Archaos, the architecture student body, whose leaders, Nick Hayhurst and Mark Corbett, sponsored the proposal.
They claim that architecture students are currently reaching qualification with debts averaging £20,000 each and point out that these debts take around 10 years to clear. They also revealed research which showed that 14 per cent of students in work placements are working at below the minimum wage of £3.60, which is illegal. A worker on a minimum wage working a 38-hour week would receive an annual salary of around £8000.
But their demand that the RIBA should expel from its register any practices which fail to sign up to the minimum wage plan was blocked by architects who raised fears that a minimum wage could hit their wage bills hard.
Hayhurst and Corbett must now revise their proposals before returning to council in July for a second attempt.
Robert Adam, who admitted to 'sounding like a male Margaret Thatcher, ' complained that students are not worth such high salaries.
'Most practices already take students on for more than they are worth, 'he said.'Debt is unfortunate, but it's not the business of practices to deal with what is a wider issue in education. We are being asked to educate people and we need to be clear on this when talking about minimum wages.'
Royal Society of Ulster Architects president Clyde Markwell warned that the minimum wage is dealt with in employment law and is not for the RIBA to regulate. University of Manchester professor Roger Stonehouse said that a minimum wage regulation for students alone could lead to accusations of discrimination between employment conditions for students and qualified architects.
There was also broad concern that a minimum wage would make it impossible for many practices to offer work placements at all.
But other council members gave support for the proposal, and vice president Claire Frankl said: 'There is a significant proportion of architectural practice being done illegally. We must condemn this.' Sam Webb said: 'If you can't pay proper wages then there is something wrong with the way you are running your practice.'
Meanwhile John Wright, who backs the minimum wage plan, said he was 'appalled and depressed' by the debate.
Despite rejecting the proposal, council agreed to investigate whether RIBA's code of conduct is currently in line with employment law. It also pledged to issue guidance to practices on employment law and PAY E and to inform them they face disciplinary action from the RIBA if they break employment law. Hayhurst and Corbett were asked to return to the next council meeting with a revised proposal.