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Applications to study architecture from overseas students rise

The number of applications from overseas students looking to study architecture in the UK has continued to rise now accounting for a third of the total

A third of applicants for architecture-related courses in this country come from overseas, according to new data from university admissions service UCAS.

The proportion of non-UK applicants for architecture, construction and planning courses in the UK has increased each year since 2010, rising from 26 per cent to 32 per cent.

The figures are backed up by the RIBA, which reported an increase of 20 per cent in overseas students starting Part 1 courses between 2008 and 2013.

Koen Steemers, head of the architecture department at the University of Cambridge, said the implications were ‘extremely positive’ – a 14 per cent increase in overseas student applications to Cambridge has offset a similar drop in applications from the UK. Steemers said: ‘The increase is due to the high quality and reputation of UK universities and in part due to increased mobility and globalisation.’

Jeremy Till, head of Central St Martins, agreed. He said: ‘UK architectural culture and education are still seen to be internationally strong and the fees in relation to the main competitor countries – namely the USA and Australia – are competitive.’

De Montfort head of school Raymond Quek also put the increasing figures down to higher fees abroad. He said: ‘Some markets have nose-dived and we are picking up applications from foreign students who might once have gone to Australia, where an average overseas student tuition is now roughly £16-17,000 a year.’

Quek added: ‘Think of Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas and the impact, for better or worse, that their practices have had on the world, and one might argue the seeds were sown within UK education.’

Despite the increased proportion of overseas applicants, numbers still appear to be down – with applications for architecture, construction and planning courses having dropped by 10,020 since 2010 to 40,130.

Meanwhile, the number of architecture courses running in the UK has been steadily increasing. There are currently 147 ARB-approved courses and the RIBA saw its list of accredited courses increase by 12 per cent between 2011 and 2013. New courses are set to open in Wolverhampton, Reading, Norwich and Swansea.

But these are not welcomed by all. Neil Spiller, deputy pro-vice chancellor at the University of Greenwich, said: ‘There should be fewer schools, with higher ambitions and ideals. It should be difficult for a student to get into architecture school but, once in, it [should be] demanding but, equally, rewarding.’

Further comments:

Jeremy Till, head of Central St Martins

‘International students are coming because UK architectural culture and education are still seen to be internationally strong, and the fees in relation to the main competitor countries (USA and Australia) are competitive. 

‘I do not see there are huge implications for the future of the profession. Home architecture numbers grew a lot in the 2000s with a number of new courses opening up, so this might be seen as an adjustment.’ 

Raymond Quek, head of Leicester School of Architecture, De Montfort University

‘We are seeing healthy numbers in recruitment though there is a slight decline from last year which was a bumper recruitment year. Our quota and targets are met but there is a drop of applications this year at both Part 1 and 2 courses overall. We are not unique, the university is seeing a drop in applications across the board. 

‘Some markets have nosedived and we are picking up applications from foreign students (who want an Anglophone education) who might once have gone to Australia, where an average overseas student tuition is now roughly £16-17,000 per annum (roughly AUD$28-30,000 per annum). 

‘It is healthy for us to continue to have overseas students. Architecture is a global phenomenon, though we are often guilty of thinking there is a universal architectural measure that applies to all the varied cultural situations, and having a mix of cultural heritage in our schools keeps this present in the discourse. Prior to the 1980s, the west exported typologies to the rest of the world regardless of relevance to any particular cultural situation, and some practices still do so. The profession is very international and has been for a few decades. Practices compete for projects the world over, and graduates compete for jobs in an international market.’

Koen Steemers, head of the architecture department, University of Cambridge

‘The proportion of overseas students applying to do architecture here has increased slightly from 10 per cent (in 2013) to 14 per cent (in 2014). The number of UK students has decreased by the same amount, so that the total number of applicants has remained more or less constant.

‘The drop in UK students may be as a result of the increase in tuition fees in combination with the economic recession. The increase in overseas students is due to the high quality and reputation of UK universities and in part due to increased mobility and globalisation. Many overseas students would like to stay in the UK after their Part 1 for their year-out before continuing their professional education. The UKBA’s visa conditions can make this complicated as either the university needs to take responsibility for the student’s whereabouts and attendance (a responsibility that many universities are unable to accept), or the employer does (in which case a different and more demanding type of visa is required). Our university has a very good international team that helps with this and knows the detailed requirements.

‘The profession is increasingly internationalised and I believe that the implications of increasing international exchanges and student numbers is an extremely positive characteristic. A significant proportion of our (UK) students go on to take their second degrees at Yale, ETH Zurich, TU Delft, etc., and then have the opportunity to join or establish practices that have an international profile.’

Alan Dunlop, professor, Scott Sutherland School of Architecture

‘Foreign students are up in the majority of Scottish schools. I’m sure they appreciate the teaching but I believe it’s more to do with RIBA accreditation and the value of a degree from a recognised British university which carries a cache. Particularly from China, where the older schools have more recognised value. So, in China where tradition and history are very important, Chinese parents encourage their sons and daughters to attend Glasgow, Liverpool and Edinburgh, the longest established universities. Money for fees is not usually a problem, the students who come are very often from wealthy families 

‘Our difficulty at Scott Sutherland is encouraging British students to come north. Living standards, are high and flats and food are very expensive as a consequence of oil money. Aberdeen is the most expensive place outside London for a student to survive.      

‘The recession, particularly the massive drop in building, has influenced the decline in UK students. Why would you embark on a seven year degree when there was no hope of a job at the end? This has also detrimentally affected the nature of the teaching where more emphasis has been placed on developing computer skills and making a student employable when they leave rather than educating them to be great architects.’

Yasmin Shariff, director, Dennis Sharp Architects

‘The increase in foreign students is a reflection of the high regard there is for British education and institutions and the changing role of the architect in the UK. The education review currently being undertaken is an opportunity for architectural education in this country to provide a strong foundation for creativity and innovation for a wide range of students entering a variety of professions. It will also be an opportunity for enriching the history and theory course to better represent non-Western cultures.’

Kevin Singh, head of school, Birmingham School of Architecture

‘We are seeing a big increase in EU students, particularly from Eastern Europe.

‘British education has always been revered around the world and architecture is particularly noteworthy in this sense. Many international students also want the experience of living in the UK. We are seeing major compeition now though as students go to Australia and also the USA. On the whole, many students return home, sometimes to honour funding. Part 1 students find it almost impossible to stay due to visa rules - they need a year-out salary of £22,000 to qualify to stayand outside London this is extremely rare.

‘Architecture and practice are becoming increasignly (and rapidly) global so this trend will at least tailor for the new gloal economy with large practices working a great deal in China, India and the UAE.’

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