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Schools facing overcrowding crisis

Universities have drastically increased their student numbers this year, prompting warnings that educational standards are set to plummet.

As Part 1 students head back to university this month, some will see their numbers swelled by between 20 and 40 per cent. Many architecture departments - recently merged with construction ones - have been forced by their universities to make up the financial shortfall resulting from a failure to fill construction courses. Admissions for construction dropped by 26 per cent in 2001.

And schools, unprepared for the student increases, are likely to see a corresponding jump in student-staff ratios. There are also concerns there will be less studio space available to undergraduates.

Nottingham University's School of Architecture has increased its student intake from 160 in 2001 to more than 200 this year. This follows previous increases, with the intake in 1998 at about 75. Muhunthan Balasegeram, a RIBA student council member and Part 1 graduate from Nottingham, said his fellow students were furious about the increased numbers. 'When I first arrived at the school three years ago the facilities were excellent but they are now under real stress. Students are angry there has been no planning for the increased intake. The school head said that the department was building a new extension for the beginning of this year as a way of keeping the students sweet. It hasn't happened and we will be struggling for the next few years, ' he added.

Students at other schools will also see big jumps.

Sheffield has increased its first year student population by 23 per cent this year while the University of Liverpool has increased its intake by 15 per cent. It is understood that the University of Newcastle had planned a giant hike in the region of 40 per cent but was persuaded by staff to abandon this proposal.

Wendy Potts, president of the heads of schools body SCHOSA, said the failure of construction courses was a major concern. 'It is because the quantity surveyors and civil engineers have failed to recruit the students they need that the only way to sustain the departments is to increase the intakes for the architecture schools, ' she said. 'You can imagine the pressure this puts on the standards of architectural education across the board.'

And the RIBA's acting head of education, Chris Elliot, said there is an increasing problem with staff numbers, with staff-student ratios rising ever upwards. 'Staffing levels have certainly failed to keep pace with the student numbers.'

However, Professor Taner Oc, director of postgraduate courses at Nottingham's School of Architecture, dismissed the criticism: 'The fact is we are ready for the increases. Students should be pleased because a bigger school is better funded with better resources and will have an improved reputation.'

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