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The Diary of an Anonymous Academic #3

The third in a new series about the unreported trials and tribulations from the frontline of architectural education. This week: rebellion

‘Why do we need to do this? I just don’t see how this is relevant to architecture’ –student during a period of research.

Postgrad tutorials today. I enter the room. The mood is tense. A group of students move across towards me – they are in perfect ambush formation. I know what is coming. One of the more vocal students pipes up ‘Can we have a word?’

Fortunately for me, the issue is with another tutor. It is a difficult case; I can empathise with their concerns but I don’t have much regard for their verbal acts of attrition.

A full-time academic requires you to deal with some of the uglier sides to university life; and this is definitely one of them. I have had to deal with personal complaints, petitions, tantrums, and once a full on in-school rebellion.

I recently met a graduate who tried to oust a lecturer on the grounds of being boring

I recently met a graduate who, I remember when studying, tried to oust a lecturer on the grounds of being boring. The uprising died as quickly as it started. Upon asking him about it, he said that he stopped it when he discovered several other schools have the same issue. Clearly his initial motives were not political enough.

Students will always be rebellious, particularly once in a university environment where one starts to become more self-aware. The nature of the rebellions are changing tact though and perhaps not in a good way either. Less politics, more…moaning and possibly moaning for a refund - I haven’t been able to determine quite yet if there are other social factors at play.

Rebellions are becoming more moaning and possibly moaning for a refund

They are paying fees now, and they will pay even more fees next year. So to a certain extent feel the right to demand on the basis of a monetary exchange – but an exchange that doesn’t really exist because no money has actually changed hands, so there is this unusual discrepancy between perception and expectation.

The current level of fees leaves students in this limbo, which benefits no one.

All this means students want more because they feel entitled to it, but do not feel that they should work for it (educationally speaking). So their goalposts change position but ours [academics] don’t because our teaching programme should change in response to social and cultural shifts rather than imposed shifts from government.

‘Students as customers’ as a statement is well exercised, perhaps overly so. Just because they ‘pay’ doesn’t mean the situation now becomes one of commerce. In fact, any consumerist terms should be rejected when it comes to education. On an ethical level, it degrades the value of one of the most fundamental pillars of our society.

Universities are becoming more about the management of the student experience rather than as centres of academic excellence and research. People are concerned, rightly so, but lets not panic….  something good may come of this. One colleague has put it rather optimistically; ‘maybe the students would work harder if they actually pay for their tuition upfront!’ I love the underlying cynicism in this comment. If it happens though, it’ll be something I will look forward to.

So until then, what should you do if you have to face an angry mob of students?

I will always defend the process [of our teaching approach] but one tactic to soften their furore always works a treat: big love! Sometimes all a student needs is a little reassurance from their fears, i.e. failure.

Rarely do you get a round of applause at the end of a lecture

Earlier this year I caught wind of some disgruntling behavior from my year group. Something about being worried why they were not designing any buildings. I stepped in before it reached the tipping point.

I gave a full lecture on why they should stop moaning and then quantified how much energy they waste if they carry on. It went down well - rarely do you get a round of applause at the end of a lecture.

However, some students will still persist with the negativity and always will; its their character and we cannot change that. Not to worry. The intensity and duration of the architectural education system will either push them away or make them change for the better.

At least it hopefully weeds them out before they get into practice. Something everyone should be thankful for.


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