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The Cambridge School of Architecture is in discussions about changing its course structure in a radical move to offer students an alternative route to becoming a qualified architect.

The proposal could mark the start of the long-predicted revolution in the UK's architectural education system.

The school is in discussions with the RIBA, the ARB and the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture about creating a five-year course which will offer students a Part 1 degree plus a Masters in Architecture (MArch), from which they can go straight on to take Part 3.

'It will be very similar to how American universities teach the subject, ' Cambridge's head of school Marcial Echenique said.

He added: 'However, our course will be more researchbased. Students will do the three-year Part 1 graduate course, one year of practical study and a final year spent doing research. Following the five years, students can then go on to try for their Part 3 with us.'

The decision to change the course structure comes three years after Cambridge was forced to drop its Part 2 diploma course. At the time the university blamed 'unfair research ratings', after the school was demoted from its five-star rating for academic research to four stars.

The department hopes the new set-up will attract more students, as it offers something for people wishing to move into both research and practical roles.

'The fourth year will be highly practical, giving students the skills of dealing with management, ' Echenique said.

'The fifth year will be strongly research-based. It will develop research skills in design, and offer more alternatives.

'The new course will stand people in good stead, both for those who want to continue with research, and for those moving into an architectural practice, as there is an awful lot of research to be done when designing a building.'

Alison Killing, co-chair of student body Archaos, believes that should Cambridge be successful in its bid, and provided students are still able to earn money at the end of the three-year Part 1, it sounds like an attractive course.

'I'm glad Cambridge plans to resurrect a full five-year course, ' she said. 'It's one of the most academic and research-orientated schools in the country, and I think it contributes something unique to the profession in the UK.

'I think there's definitely room for more variety in the delivery of courses. Having a full five-year course is better, as Part 1 students can learn so much from Part 2 students.

'I think the questions about the ability of students working to earn money remain, and will need to be looked at quite carefully. In fact, this is an issue I think almost all schools need to consider, ' Killing added.

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