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Alex Wright seeks blueprint to transform UK architectural education

New SCHOSA chairman presses for broad-based reform of architectural education system as schools suffer big falls in student applications

Alex Wright, the new chairman of the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture (SCHOSA), is negotiating a road map for a ‘once in a generation’ transformation of architectural education in response to fee hikes and falling applications.

SCHOSA, which represents the UK’s 42 architecture schools, is understood to be pursuing a consensus for change across stakeholders including the RIBA, ARB and students.

Wright, the University of Bath architecture head who took over from former SCHOSA chairman Gordon Murray last month, said this could include greater flexibility and a focus on work-based or placement learning. He said: ‘We need more diversity and scope for innovation in architecture programmes. The route [to how someone demonstrates competency] should be as flexible as possible.’

Revealing that applications to study architecture had fallen by 40 per cent at some schools, Wright said reform of the system, which has remained unchanged for 60 years, was needed to meet changing circumstances.

He added that architecture courses, where annual fees of up to £9,000 a year are set to come into force in autumn, were suffering disproportionately compared with other professional disciplines.

A 16.3 per cent drop in applications, reported by admissions service UCAS at the start of the year, was ‘not helpful’ in understanding the true picture, he said, because it excluded students from Scotland and Wales, who are subject to different fee regimes, and overseas applicants.

He said: ‘There are programmes in the UK that are being very carefully looked at by vice-chancellors in light of their 2012 application figures and I suspect some of those courses would be architecture courses.

‘Architecture as a profession has one of the poorest relationships between cost of education and potential earnings. Debts in excess of £80,000 are not unexpected.’

Birmingham School of Architecture head Kevin Singh said that, if the current trend continued, ‘professional bodies and the institutions might need to radically rethink how we educate architects’. Any discouragement to budding architects who feel they cannot afford higher education would, he said, be ‘disastrous for an [already] fairly mono-cultured profession’.

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