Candidates for the RIBA presidency are always keen to state their concern for student issues. But not to the extent of suggesting that students should help to determine the outcome of the election. Archaos co-chair Alex MacLaren, profiled on page 22, argues that her organisation needs to be less dependent on the RIBA if it is to be an effective champion for student views. This 'them and us'mentality is understandable given that students cannot vote for the RIBA president, but is a sad indictment of the institute. It also suggests a divide which will become increasingly meaningless if, as predicted in this week's AJenda (pages16-18), study becomes more sporadic and the distinction between students and practitioners becomes increasingly blurred.
Allowing students to vote will not solve student issues but it would address feelings of disaffection with the institute. And it would encourage presidential candidates to place education policies high on the agenda. What's more, it would go some way towards addressing concerns about the low proportion of women and ethnic minorities in the profession and the fact that such under-represented groups are far more likely to leave architecture before passing Part 3. Surely it makes sense to encourage would-be RIBA presidents to address their particular concerns while there is still a chance they can be persuaded to stay? In turn, students, and those who teach them, would have a greater incentive to engage with issues concerning the profession as a whole. Teachers would have a responsibility to arm themselves with sufficient knowledge to allow students to make an educated vote.A quick lecture on the comparative merits of presidential candidates would provide a useful insight into issues of current concern to practitioners.
There is also a simple statistical advantage of increasing the constituency. There are some 10,000 students on RIBA-accredited courses in the UK (most of whom are not student members of the RIBA). The bigger the electorate, the more impressive the mandate, and the greater the chance of results that are determined by policy as opposed to by personal contacts and cliques.