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Brum renaissance needs support not criticism

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Can the Birmingham School of Architecture and Landscape at the University of Central England (UCE), the subject of so much press criticism recently (AJ 15.7.04), really be the same school with which I have been associated during the past few years?

As a practitioner and visiting critic, I have seen the school rebuild itself from the nadir of two years ago, when it lost its postgraduate accreditation, into an energetic and revitalised institution. Thom Gorst [head of school] and his staff have turned round a school that has had, deservedly, its fair share of criticism. The previous well-meaning, but misguided, policy of virtually open access followed by casual tolerance of poorly performing students has clearly been replaced by a drive for academic excellence and a discipline designed to be beneficial for the students.

It is difficult to obtain information from the school or from UCE (it is in Football Association mode at present) - however, students advise me that the 93 per cent failure rate evolved from students carrying over failed modules from previous years.

For them the day of reckoning had to arrive - it did last month!

A degree cannot be awarded to a third-year student who is yet to complete a project from the second year.

Possibly 30 per cent of the affected students should have been encouraged out of architecture before reaching the third year, and for the other 70 per cent all is not lost - they can complete their degree if they expend some effort over this summer holiday.

Ironically, the students, particularly the hard-working ones, have expressed support for a system that rewards effort and penalises lethargy.

Those of us that were at the end-of-year show will be aware of the enthusiasm there is among professionals in the city for the work the school is now producing. What we are witnessing is not a school in decline but one that is rebuilding itself.

Anyone with any experience of architectural education should be challenging the conclusions to which the press are jumping.

Why is the university steadfastly refusing to support its school?

What lies behind these apparently catastrophic figures? It is my suspicion that, once analysed and put into context, these statistics may well tell a different story, one that perhaps supports the theory of a school renaissance.

We are advised that the university has decided to suspend recruitment to the first year.

Most people will naturally be interpreting this as a vote of no confidence in the school, and students will already be looking at other options for their second and third-year study. How can the school survive?

This past year has seen the school receiving unprecedented support from practitioners in the area, with a large number of us donating our own time to provide crit panels for project assessments, because we believe in what Gorst and his team are trying to achieve.

The work we have seen is evidence of the higher standards of architectural education to which the school is aspiring. Is that time now to be squandered?

Surely I am not the only architect in the region to feel so strongly about the tragedy that is unfolding on our doorstep.

If we want to retain a school in Birmingham, we will have to fight for it. I just hope we are not too late.

Sid Glazzard, Birmingham

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