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These days it's not all pints, parties and pulling at university.

Students contemplating studying architecture face having to stump up a staggering £50,000 in fees alone (AJ 25.08.05). As a result, few social groups can even begin to think about a career in architecture. And if they are in financial trouble, there is almost nowhere they can turn for help.

One place they could turn to traditionally has been the RIBA 'hardship fund'. But it recently ran dry (AJ+ 28.09.05).

But now there is a glimmer of hope, in the unlikely form of a new charity backed by the likes of Alex de Rijke, David Adjaye and Glen Howells.

The story starts with the sickness of the 'hardship fund' (the RIBA Education Fund).

This had, pre-1997, been dependent on money creamed off from the ARCUK's registration fee. But when the legality of this principal source of cash was questioned, the stream of money to Portland Place dried up. The RIBA was left with a total of £170,000, topped up with the occasional generosity of individual benefactors. Now, after eight years, this pile of cash has gone. With the imminent introduction of topup fees, could there have been a worse time for the fund to be depleted?

Thankfully, there has been a response to this crisis. Not, as you would expect, from the RIBA itself but from Alan Phillips of Brighton-based Alan Phillips Associates. Students across the country will be delighted to hear that he has set up the independent Architectural Education Trust (AET) - as a funnel for community-focused architects to raise money for those in dire need.

'We're looking at architecture as the essential elements of shelter, ' he said.

'People's mental health is improved by architecture.

We are encouraging students to view this problem as a political issue.' The organisation has just given its inaugural endowment to the RIBA fund - in the form of £10,000 that has been distributed to seven individuals in financial distress.

The AET is very definitely not part of the Portland Place apparatus but it does act as a conduit through which funds pass to the RIBA. This is because, according to Phillips, its funds are gained hand to mouth, as the organisation uses the nous and connections of its trustees to approach anyone it can and cheekily ask for the odd wad of cash.

But it still raises the question of whether the RIBA is doing anything like enough to proactively raise funds. Let's face it, £10,000 is sadly nothing more than a drop in the ocean.

The student population will soon be in crisis. Something needs to be done, and fast.

For more information on the AET please email Giovanna Forte at giovannaforte@btinternet. com

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