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Flexible education: learning a lesson from the legal profession

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Flexibility is one of those words that carries the ring of righteousness.

Flexible space is deemed to be inherently desirable.Flexible education, likewise, sounds like a sensible aspiration.Why impose a set seven years of slog on a group of people who acquire expertise at vastly different rates and in a multitude of ways?

SCHOSA is absolutely right to address the challenges posed by the changing educational landscape, not least the fact that spiralling debt and the spectre of top-up fees are forcing increasing numbers of students to combine paid employment with study.And there is an undoubted logic to its solution: that we should stop thinking in terms of length of course, and start concentrating on level of attainment.Students should be free to apply for entry into the profession at the point when they believe they have acquired the appropriate level of competence through any given combination of university courses and work experience. It is a practical response to a series of very practical problems.But it disregards the psychological implications of a seven-year course.The absurdly long training establishes architecture as a serious degree, up there with the high-prestige disciplines of medicine and law.

One of the problems identified by SCHOSA is that, while many 'opt out'of architectural education, it is virtually impossible to 'opt in'.Older applicants, even those with extensive relevant experience, face the prospect of joining a class of 18-year-olds to retrain from scratch.

But the legal profession shows that the problem can be overcome without abandoning the basic requirement for a minimum length of study.By acknowledging the worth of undergraduate degrees in other disciplines, it positively encourages applicants from different walks of life. It expects its students to achieve the same finishing point without being too prescriptive about each and every early milestone, and remains a high-status course that satisifies demands for a minimum period of study.

An infinitely flexible system of architectural education may well attract those put off by the rigidity of the current system.But is there also a danger of deterring those who are currently attracted by its academic prestige?

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