The complexities of architectural education, and its reform, have been exposed once again with the premature publication last week of a small element in what could be the biggest change to the system of architectural education since the Oxford Conference in 1958.
For 40 years a close relationship, based on a melding of professional and academic qualifications, has existed between practice and the schools of architecture. This may change as a result of the review being conducted by the riba under the chairmanship of Sir Colin Stansfield Smith; one paper of several produced for the review recommends the scrapping of the Part I qualification, leaving universities to set their own standards. Its author, Bartlett teacher Jeremy Till, argues that postgraduate architecture courses should be opened to students of related disciplines, who could undertake 'diploma conversion' courses, along the us model. It is suggested that, in some unexplained way, degree students would feel more free to pursue other architecture-related careers if Part I were removed from the scene.
Cynics may argue that there is something for both the riba and the schools in such a course of action. The schools would be free of what some academics regard as interference from Portland Place, and could drop unpopular elements of the course, for example technical teaching, in favour of more 'liberal' areas of study. The amount of design teaching could be cut, to be replaced by subjects more easily open to 'academic' examination. This would justify the schools' inability to hire practitioner teachers because they lack research 'brownie points' which help attract more funds to architecture departments. Why teach design when you could be teaching history and theory? Why learn about materials when a sociology option is available?
From the riba's point of view, a disconnection between degree and entry into the profession could pave the way for tougher barriers to undertaking a diploma course (assume a first or higher second degree), and ultimately restrict the numbers of new entrants to the profession, thereby raising salaries and fees. Why continue with a system dependent on the goodwill of practitioners and teachers who visit schools for nothing? Why encourage more and more people to take the path of Part III qualification?
The Till paper covers much more than the simple question of whether or not to scrap Part I. It certainly paves the way for the four-year funding which riba education director Chris Colbourne is on record as favouring - even though this runs counter to years of institute effort to defend (successfully) its corner on five-year funding. This one will run and run.