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The Part 1, 2 and 3 system needs a radical overhaul

With the EU directive looming, the RIBA’s plans to ditch Parts 1-3 are timely, says Christine Murray

The time for the RIBA to act on architectural education is now. The Part 1, 2 and 3 system needs a radical overhaul - and the RIBA council agrees, having backed a motion last week which could see the current structure abandoned.

Action on education is overdue to counteract the deadly combination of tuition fees of £9,000 per year, stagnant architect salaries (in our recent survey half of qualified architects earned less than £32,000, with some earning as little as £15,000) and the low level of architectural fees.

The profession is gentrifying at an alarming rate, with the length of the degree and tuition fees further aggravating the gender and class divide, weakening the profession as a whole and its relevance and ability to relate to the modern construction industry.

This debate has run and run, but a new impetus for change is the European Union directive, which will move the goalpost for ARB registration when adopted in 2014.

Then, architects from Europe who have studied for five years in university with zero practical experience, or who have studied for four years, plus two years of practical experience, can become registered as qualified architects in the UK.

That means under the new European Union directive, ARB registered architects will include recent graduates who have never worked on a live project in practice, a move sure to further erode the status of the professional title when compared to the current Part 1, 2 and 3 system.

Nobody wants to spur on a race to the bottom when it comes to qualifications: David Gloster, RIBA head of education, has said he is not interested in adopting the five-year fast-track degree in the UK, saying that the practical experience acquired through the current system is irreplaceable.

But there is no reason why practical experience couldn’t be incorporated into a shorter five- or four-year degree, and introduced earlier.

As Jerry Tate, principal of Jerry Tate Architects said: ‘The integration between practice and education is not working at the moment. If you were studying medicine, you would start your clinical experience in the second year.’

The view of J-J Lorraine of Morrow Lorraine is also typical: ‘We have a couple of Part 1s who are superb architects-in-waiting, but they dare not leave paid work to complete their studies for the crippling debt. Our qualified architects who trained at the best universities have gaps in their training - after seven years you would expect more on the broader aspects of being in practice, not just mapping and research.’

A shorter degree in line with the EU directive, but embedded with practical experience, is needed. This will change what it means to be an architect - but that’s changed fundamentally anyway; architects no longer have sole liability on projects in most cases.

As Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris said: ‘The split between academe and architectural practice has damaged both. What we need is ever more flexibility, choice for the student and less regulation. There is not one kind of architect and not one kind of education.’

A fine farewell

James Pallister joined the AJ just a year out of university as editorial assistant seven years ago, climbing the ranks under three different editors and surviving one big recession.

He is now leaving us to take up a new role in the industry. His last column runs this week.

Best of luck, Pally, we’ll miss you.

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