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Legal profession shows us to be short-sighted

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I read the news of the SCHOSA education rethink (AJ 13.5.04) with much interest. As a history graduate who decided to retrain as an architect, I am particularly aware of the inflexibility of the current arrangements and the disadvantages it places upon both students and the profession. The sanctity of the seven-year system has gone unchallenged in the UK for far too long.

Having briefly studied among a diverse crop of MA students at Sci-ARC in Los Angeles, I can attest to the excellence of nonarchitectural graduates of all backgrounds in that country. The complacency and short-sighted protectionism that has prevented the UK profession from opening its doors to outsiders is ultimately to its own detriment. As much as we might like to imagine that we are defending some kind of professional 'gold standard', the truth is that far too many of those who slog their way through the British system remain narrowly educated and under-prepared for practice at its end. It is difficult to think of another discipline in which so much time and effort is expended in learning (and, ultimately, earning) so little.

The length and cost of the seven-year programme is already a disincentive to many talented 18-year-olds, but an even bigger barrier to those numerous graduates from other fields who finish their first degree and only then realise that they would like to be an architect. We could do worse than to learn from the legal profession, where an extremely demanding and concentrated one-year conversion course allows the brightest and best from any background to rapidly and affordably transfer their skills. Law's gain is architecture's loss, as we consistently miss out on the opportunity to expand the depth and breadth of our own profession.

Ben Flatman, via email

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