A Good's letter (aj 21.01.99) raises a number of points concerning the role of the Architects Registration Board (arb) in education and, more generally, in the validation of higher education courses (a task which the Board carries out with the riba).
The activities of the validation panel are, rightly for the schools involved, largely of a confidential nature. The individuals carrying out this work are handling sensitive information concerning student achievement, including external examiners' reports, which is unlikely to be shared publicly without the permission of the schools in question. In order that those undertaking validation can continue to gain access to objective and detailed information about courses, they must be able to work in an atmosphere of trust between themselves and any individual school.
Schools are also sensitive to the sharing of information about courses which they may be developing. Investment in course development has educational and business motivation behind it for most heis (and, indeed, further education establishments). For many years now, those in the process of developing new courses contact the validation executive committee, to seek initial recognition, a stage on the way to full-scale validation.
The cost of uk validation currently runs at £60,000 per annum, a cost borne by the arb and the riba. In common with 75 per cent of other professional and statutory bodies (psbs), no charge is made for validation (figures from heqc, 1996). The Consumers' Association has recently drawn attention to the importance of education and training to professions and professionals, noting that 'practitioners collectively have a sense of responsibility for maintaining the competency and integrity of the profession as a whole'. This altruistic element has been a hallmark of architects' involvement in the development of the education and training system.
The current arrangements for validation are well-established, and the processes and criteria are well documented (arb/riba 1997). The arb conducted a wide-ranging consultation on validation between August and October 1998. The outcomes of this consultation have been discussed with the key stakeholders in validation:
the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture (schosa)
the Joint Validation Executive.
The arb is still awaiting some more detail from the riba on its response to the proposals emerging from the consultation. All the parties are working towards developing the validation process to meet the changing needs of higher education. As we move forward in these discussions, we are keenly aware of other pressures and emerging issues, particularly those of the Quality Assurance Agency (qaa) and the Stansfield Smith review. However, one outcome which is not contentious, and which can be shared at this stage, concerns the recruitment, retention and training of those undertaking validation. The arb is concerned that this takes place as if these were public appointments, and, as such, subject to the Nolan Committee's guidance on openness and transparency.
I hope this letter goes some way to answering the questions raised in this timely letter.
OWEN LUDER CBE
Vice chair, ARB