Your report that the government is to scrap five-year funding for architecture students (AJ 12.2.98) is extremely disturbing. SCHOSA (the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture) represents the heads of all the UK schools of architecture, who are understandably very concerned at the possible consequences for students, their courses and the profession as a whole.
Firstly, there are apparently a number of ambiguities in the parliamentary questions and answers:
In the first instance, why did Andrew Welsh MP question the Secretary of State's decision (? ) not to pay for the fifth year of architecture courses?
In Dr Kim Howell's written reply of 20 January 98 stating that it is the government's view that the responsibility for fifth-year funding should rest with the private sector, a number of further questions are raised:
Why? On whose authority is this statement made? Is this a decision or notice of a decision? Does this only affect students 'domiciled in England'? What happens next?
Secondly, the recent history of this subject is pertinent. Since the RIBA's successful challenge through the courts against such a move by the last government, SCHOSA has fought hard to retain five-year funding, although not always, it must be said, with the full support it should have expected from the RIBA.
Following publication of the Dearing Report last summer, the RIBA suggested, and SCHOSA agreed, that a joint reponse should be made in the interests of unity.
At SCHOSA's annual conference in Brno last September, the then RIBA director of education, Chris Colbourne, asked for a firm mandate from SCHOSA: a unanimous decision to support five-year funding was given.
To our dismay this mandate was undermined only a few days later by the article published in the Times Higher Education Supplement on 12 September 1997, in which Chris Colbourne, interviewed prior to the Brno conference, effectively endorsed a change to four-year funding.
A joint RIBA/SCHOSA meeting with a senior civil servant at the DfEE in October 1997 to discuss the Dearing response suggested that no funding changes were imminent.
SCHOSA is very concerned that this ambivalence is seriously undermining the future of architectural education. Its next meeting is on Friday 20 February, at which heads will be discussing the matter fully.
MICHAEL FOSTER Secretary, SCHOSA DAVID DUNSTER Chair, steering committee, SCHOSA