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Part 1: time for a rebrand?

Part 1 should be a launchpad degree for budding politicians, planners, developers and - of course - architects, writes Alison Coutinho from the The What Now? Collaborative

Does architectural education need to change? Join the debate at AJ’s LinkedIn group

While UK architectural education is regarded as world class, the system is archaic, inflexible, too long, too expensive and incongruous with changing practices in the built environment.

Fortunately, most of the stakeholders in academia and the profession agree.

The system is archaic, inflexible, too long, too expensive and incongruous with changing practices

During the last five years, there have been a considerable number of debates and campaigns about the relevance of today’s architectural education and I have had the privilege of being invited to join some of these initiatives. 

By way of context, I studied Architecture and Landscape at Part I and became curious about our strict linear educational system when there seemed to be little opportunity to pursue my landscape interests within the architectural education framework. 

One of the first initiatives I was involved with was the ACA|RIBA Economic Recovery Taskforce in 2008 under Sunand Prasad’s presidency of the RIBA - an outcome of which was a widened recognition of types of professional experience needed for qualification.

Since 2010, I have run a think tank - The What Now? Collaborative - which explores this very issue with students, universities, practices and professional bodies and there is one thing for certain: the delivery of architectural education in the United Kingdom needs reforming. 

In a few months’ time, the European Union will amend its current directive on mutual recognition of profession qualifications across EU member states, and the UK will have two years to incorporate the new EU rules. 

2013 is therefore the year for reaching a consensus for change in the UK, accepting the facts facing us and reacting accordingly. The supply and demand of architects is heavily imbalanced, and tied to that, approximately 70% of graduates at Part I join other professions. 

Part I’s nomenclature should also change - suggestions on the back of a postcard please 

Part I therefore ought to embrace this, liberate itself from its strict vocational label and instead brand itself as a launchpad degree for budding politicians, planners, developers and, of course, architects. In doing so, its nomenclature should also change - suggestions on the back of a postcard please.

The amendments to the EU Qualifications Directive are likely to continue to restrict non-cognate entry which means we need to seriously consider a UK-only qualification, as recently tabled to the ARB by Alex Wright, ARB Board Member and Head of Architecture at the University of Bath. 

Wright’s research has found that the national average length of qualification is 9.5 years.  If Part I became a launchpad degree, the particulars of Part III and gateway point to the profession must also be reviewed. 

The particulars of Part III and gateway point to the profession must also be reviewed

One consensus relating to cost, length and flexibility was established in November 2011 at ‘Education: A Charter For Change’, a speakers’ corner style debate and charter hosted by The What Now? Collaborative.  The 120 academics, students and practitioners in attendance signed the charter as a pledge to the institutions in power to act accordingly. 

With change being inevitable, I look on to 2013 with excitement and with visions of the debates, articles, exhibitions and protests from the last five years coming together to make our education fresh, attractive and relevant.  Here’s to a new year and a new start.

Alison Coutinho is part of the steering committee for Ryder Architecture-led Built Environment Education campaign. Join the debate at AJ’s LinkedIn group

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