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2.2% drop in UCAS architecture applications

More than 700 fewer students have applied to study undergraduate architecture courses this year, according to UCAS figures

The small drop is the second annual decrease in a row, coming after applications for architecture, build and plan courses plummeted 16.2 per cent last year (2012) in the wake of the introduction of £9,000-a-year tuition fees.

According to the universities admission service, 35,042 applications have so far been made for full time architecture related study in the 2013 cycle compared to 35,825 the previous year.

Undergraduate applications to London Metropolitan’s core architecture course alone are down 16 per cent this year, following a 10 per cent drop in 2012.

Signy Svalastoga, head of the high-profile London school, blamed the decrease on the ‘long shadow’ of last summer’s UK Border Agency decision to revoke the university’s licence to sponsor international pupils. Following the fiasco – which initially placed 4,000 scholars at risk of deportation – students starting courses at London Metropolitan last autumn plummeted 43 per cent.

Svalastoga accepted there could be a ‘slight decrease’ in this year’s undergraduate intake but confirmed no staff losses were expected. ‘At postgraduate level the picture is quite different with increases in applications to Part II and Part III,’ she added.

Applications to the Manchester School of Architecture were also down, according to dean Tom Jeffries. ‘What we are seeing is a flattening-out to a core number,’ he explained. ‘There had been an increase in applications before the fee increase last year and there is also a demographic change, meaning there are fewer 18-year-olds than there were a few years ago.’

Sheffield and the Bartlett meanwhile reported sustained interest, while Kingston University saw a 12 per cent increase. However, Kingston school head Daniel Rosbottom warned that high fees could ‘disenfranchise significant numbers of young people and lead to a narrowing and diminishing of the profession’ in the medium term.

The 2.2 per cent decrease in applications to study architecture comes amid an overall 3.5 per cent increase in applications to all courses.

Computer sciences saw the highest increase at 12.3 per cent followed by engineering at 8.4 per cent. The biggest applications decrease, at 6.7 per cent, was in non-European languages.

UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook described the outcome as ‘encouraging, with no double-dip for applications and continuing improvements for disadvantaged groups.’

She went on to describe a ‘stubborn gap’ between application rates for young men and young women. ‘This is most pronounced for disadvantaged groups where young women are 50% more likely to apply than young men.’

The fall in architecture applications has resurrected the debate on whether schools are producing too many architects with SCHOSA head Alex Wright defending architecture courses (see comment below).

Central Saint Martins head Jeremy Till said: ‘From the point of view of supplying the architectural profession there are almost certainly too many schools. But there is a purpose and value to architectural education beyond just producing architects, in the same way as there is a purpose and value to history and archaeology beyond historians and archaeologists.’

Harriet Harriss of Oxford Brookes University said: ‘There are not too many schools - but there is a fundamental lack of differentiation in UK schools. Creative schools in general – and schools of architecture and spatial design programs in particular – confront enormous challenges and disruptions from market forces, pervasive technologies and government policy shifts.

‘This means that there’s never been a better time to be thoughtfully innovative and take the initiative. Training students for business-as-usual practice life is the principal preoccupation of most schools but in my view schools need to focus more on developing more market responsive and innovation driven content - preparing graduates to become design entrepreneurs and expand and reinvigorate the remit of the spatial design sector.’

Alastair Parvin of 00 Architecture said: ‘If we continue with the existing market with its very linear route then of course it is problematic if we are educating too many students than there are jobs at the moment. Schools should be broadening out what architecture might lead to.  Some might say it is good that there are fewer students because there aren’t many jobs at the end, but that is such a moribund short term view. But we should instead be looking at broadening what it means to be an architect. That should be much more about entrepreneurial spirit, business minded social enterprise and how architecture can improve quality of life.’

David Dernie, dean of architecture and built environment at Westminster University, said: ‘The effect of the new student loans on long courses like architecture is clearly is serious reflection. At the same time, if Schools maintain the quality of facilities and delivery with a distinctive emphasis and approach, then the effect of any financially-driven downturn will be minimal. Architecture remains a hugely popular subject in Universities, and UK Schools rank amongst the best in the world. And while Europe’s economy may flatline over the next 10 years, global output in built environment industries will continue to prosper. There will continue to be jobs for architecture and built environment graduates. In the UK we offer an excellent quality of education on the whole and if we keep our outlook international, there’s no reason to doubt the continued growth in this sector.’

Alex Maxwell of the Architecture Students Network said: ‘I’m not really surprised. If you look at the big picture where we are paying £9,000 a year to study and there are so many barriers to entry. This is going to have an impact on the quality of students. Architecture has a negative image in the media. It has been in the press that the government is anti-architect and anti-starchitect and maybe this is the time to shake it up a bit. The status qou is not attracting as many hopeful architects as it did a few years ago.’

  

Comment: SCHOSA head Alex Wright

Alex Wright

Alex Wright

 The debate about architectural education has taken a positive turn with the central question no longer ‘Is change needed?’, but ‘What shape will it take?’

I used to hear Europe was to blame for our regulatory burdens. The UK only prescribes qualifications which fully comply with EU mutual recognition requirements. We could choose not to without changing our legislative framework, enabling far more flexible routes to qualification. This issue will come to the fore when the revised Professional Qualifications Directive is finally approved.

Some say UK universities simply train too many architects. But the register’s modest growth is due almost entirely to architects joining through the European mutual recognition route, without any UK qualifications. Controlling the numbers of UK architects by restricting educational opportunities fails to recognise we have no control over architects from other member states registering here. Limiting the number of architects in the UK by preventing access to our education system would be as effective as improving Somerset architects’ lot by closing the school of architecture in Bath. Surveys of the global profession show that such simplistic, supply-sided economic arguments fail to hold true. For example, there are 1,968 inhabitants per architect in the UK (which ranks 34th in the world) compared with 416 inhabitants per architect in chart-topping Japan. But adjusted earnings per architect in The Netherlands are higher, despite the Dutch profession being comparatively more numerous. Only a third of Part I students become architects, with the rest pursuing other careers. The UK suffers from having too few people who understand the value of architecture which an undergraduate degree provides, rather than too many.

Too often the education debate has focused on syllabus criteria rather than the regulatory framework. While the EU requires architects to meet 11 separate criteria, in the UK we require each candidate to demonstrate compliance with 106. We could address this along with the eligibility requirements we place on candidates regardless of their competency. I still find it hard to explain why we require a student who has passed Part II to sit a Part I exam, given the Part I exam has a lower pass threshold. 

A new consensus recognises we have an opportunity to establish a framework for education suited to today and the future, rather than persisting with one which demonstrably isn’t.

 

  • Alex Wright is professor of architecture and head of architecture at the University of Bath, chair of the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture (SCHOSA) and chair of the UK Architectural Education Review Group.

 

 

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