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.