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Too many architecture students are simply unemployable

The profession is calling for change in the Parts system and the institutes need to listen, says Christine Murray

Everyone agrees that architectural education needs an overhaul - to include the scrapping of the current Parts 1, 2 and 3 system - but that’s as far as consensus goes.

The ARB board discussed ‘a root and branch review’ of the possible routes to professional registration at its board meeting last week, but in the end couldn’t agree on the extent or scope. ‘The conversation swung around the table and didn’t resolve itself in an outcome,’ said Beatrice Fraenkel, chair of the ARB board. The board will revisit the question in September.

The white paper by the UK Architecture Education Review Group, rubber-stamped by SCHOSA, the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture, is more definitive, calling for a break with the EU directive, allowing some schools to create qualified architects who can work in the EU and some who can’t, in a bid for greater flexibility.

They also want the ARB to change its rules to make the route to qualification a ‘gateway’, not a ‘pathway’. The paper reads: ‘This change will eliminate the requirement for entrants to the profession to hold Parts 1, 2 and 3. The proposed gateway should provide a rigorous and robust examination of competence but would allow numerous pathways to registration which are currently ineligible for consideration.’ In other words, architects could technically complete an undergraduate degree in another discipline and transfer into architecture for an MA degree - like the American system - or even qualify after a lengthy apprenticeship.

David Gloster, head of education for the RIBA, agrees that education needs to change, but admitted at a round table for the Farrell Review last week that the conversation seems to go in circles. The door to change is most easily opened by the ARB. But, with its own existence coming up for government review, members of the board are nervous about sticking their necks out.

If the profession is calling for change in the way architects become qualified, governing bodies need to harness this momentum. The current system is flabby, and, at £9,000 a year for tuition fees, flabby isn’t fair. That doesn’t mean education needs to be solely practical - the reason why UK architecture Plc has done so brilliantly is because architecture schools are a nursery for creativity and innovation. But quality varies among schools so widely that, as Jonathan Sergison admits in his essay this week, too many of these students are simply unemployable. He writes: ‘Part of the failure here must lie with the schools of architecture.’ The only consistency across schools is the length of the course. The fact that students will leave university after two degrees with no professional qualification, saddled with debt for life and a starting salary of £27,000 with no chance of serious progression without completing Part 3, is scandalous.

The starting point is to identify the new role of architects in the built environment, what skills they need, and how best to equip them for the challenge. There may be multiple answers to these questions and at postgraduate level there can be different architecture courses to serve these needs, while still retaining a comprehensive undergraduate degree. Change involves taking brave decisions, and the institutes seem hesitant to stick their necks out. If the profession truly supports radical change, it must rattle the cages of its member organisations.

 

Readers' comments (7)

  • Great article. I shall not hold my breath awaiting the overdue change though. As with most things well established (entrenched) in society there is a fear of change or stepping into the unknown. Bring back the quest for knowledge and understanding.

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  • It would have been nice to get a starting salary of £27,000!

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  • Our current architectural education system isn't confined to the academy. It seems to be conveniently forgotten that practice based learning is also an integral part of a students architectural education. My understanding is that during a students first year out and then during their subsequent years in practice before taking their professional exam, that is the time and the environment within which they should become proficient in the practice of architecture and be learning what it is to be employable.

    I am a sole practitioner and a studio tutor and I regularly employ Part 1 students. I have never failed to make use of anyone that I have employed and take very seriously the idea that they are with me to learn as well as being a useful member of the team. Given the salary that is paid to most part 1s and part 2s I feel that in most cases we get a pretty good deal as employers.

    Having seen both sides of the coin I am far more concerned by the learning experience that many students receive in practice than I am by their learning experience in the school. Not only is it increasingly hard for students to get any placements, getting one in a practice that is innovative, creative, ambitious, inspiring and with a consistent output is almost impossible

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  • Frankly, Glenn if you want to read a great article on the problems of architectural education read Austin Williams on sustainability supplanting critical engagement then Penny Lewis on the need for a core method and text, rooted in the study of history, context and culture and the modern movement.

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  • A starting salary of £27,000. I was on that 5 years ago as a part 2. I am now very fortunate to be 4 years fully qualified, but being passed from pillar to post through the recession I now find myself amazingly back on the same salary I started on.

    The trouble with architecture, unlike lawyers and doctors we don't truly value ourselves and get undercut by the next person cutting the nose to spite the face! It is an employers world for now but a career in anything else would bear greater fruit after so long in the industry. That is 7 years post part 2 and no better off than when I started. Its a disgrace!

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  • I'd agree that far too few are employable.

    Many students are passed year after year without question on even the most basic of core skills.... for example, should a 1st year student be allowed to pass if they have incorrectly used 1 point perspective in their final project? or if they have sections that don't agree with their plans?

    I'd say they probably shouldn't be passed, but the real worry is that there is also 6th year work in the shows this year with the same mistakes.

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  • I taught for six years at the top technical university in Portugal and introduced a strong technical bias to the course. the work produced and the quantity left me aghast most times. Tony Hunt was generous enough to workshop my students. They loved it and him too by the way. Those who did not meet standards I failed, i.e they got 0/20. Some efforts were I categorised as F**k off and come back next year! and the greatest reward I had was when they came back the following year and wowed me and their fellow students with their effort.
    Creativity didn´t suffer and the students got a pretty good idea as to what is required to make their ideas stand up. By the way most of them got job offers,,,,

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