Four out of five employers believe architecture schools are failing to provide students with the practical skills needed to practice, according to a major new survey
The poll, conducted by NBS for RIBA Appointments, also found that 80 per cent of employers think architectural education puts theoretical knowledge above practical ability, while more than half say courses do not reflect architecture in the modern world.
Both the employers and students polled said that more time should be spent in practice during their training to make sure they are better prepared for the workplace.
Paul Chappell, manager at RIBA Appointments, said: ‘The survey highlights some areas for concern, with a widespread feeling that many architectural students and graduates are simply not being provided with the skills they need to work in practice.’
The research compared the views of 150 employers and almost 600 students and recent graduates at Parts 1, 2 and 3 levels.
It also found that more than half of employers and almost two-thirds of graduates think there should be alternative routes into architecture, such as apprenticeships.
Albena Atanassova, student representative on the RIBA council, said: ‘We as students of architecture and young professionals face a reality of an increasingly expensive education that provides a broad understanding of the profession.
‘However it fails to prepare us for the challenges that the contemporary architect faces on a daily basis.’
She called for more guided teaching delivered by practicing architects and architectural practices, as well as cross-disciplinary projects with other courses related to the construction industry and local authorities, she added.
In response, academics have emphasised that architecture schools already go out of their way to give students vocational experience.
Katharine Heron, professor of architecture at University of Westminster, said: ‘At Westminster we have a lot of practice links and we encourage it through teaching and in research All courses normally have two year’s work based learning known through the year out and Part 3.’
She said that there was an ongoing debate about allowing other routes into the profession, but the necessary models have yet to be created.
Professor Kevin Singh, head of the Birmingham School of Architecture, cited numerous ways in which courses prepare students for work.
However, he added: ‘You might argue that there are a lot of things about the working world that are difficult to replicate in a university. It is difficult to teach about cost, about close teamwork with other disciplines, and making quick decisions.’
He added that the RIBA currently encourages architecture schools to be distinctive, meaning it is unrealistic to expect all students to graduate with the same attributes.
The survey also found that only a third of students rated hand drawing as a desirable skill, compared to 70 per cent of employers.
In addition, only 15 per cent of part 3 students said that knowledge of the law was important for employers, compared to the real situation – 44 per cent of employers said that it is important.
The RIBA is currently undertaking a review of architectural education, launched in 2013.
Carl Meddings, principal lecturer and subject leader for architecture at the University of Huddersfield
‘All schools of architecture engage with the profession regionally, nationally and internationally. The presentation of the results of this survey seem to imply a void between academia and practice, which, in my experience, doesn’t exist. It also seems to imply that all architectural education is the same - locked away behind the closed doors of fusty institutions - which it isn’t. It’s extraordinarily diverse.
‘In the current structure of architectural education in the UK, the architectural profession has an extremely important role to play in developing practical and professional skills in the workplace. Universities are forging ever stronger relationships with practices to help develop the professional attitudes and attributes that will position our graduates to make the most of the opportunities that real office experience can provide.
‘The RIBA Architecture Education Review is currently considering ways to allow much greater flexibility to suit the needs of students, academic institutions and architectural practices and I imagine that practical training is a key component of this review.
‘We are always ready to consider new ways of doing things.’
Zlatina Spasova, coordinator of the Architecture Students Network
‘This research echoes what has been said at past ASN conferences. Students appreciate the emphasis placed on design but realise the need for relevance of what is being taught to reflect contemporary tendencies in architecture.
‘Students have also expressed concern of the limited technical and professional skills they leave university with, largely unprepared for the reality of the profession. Education should prepare future architects for the full spectrum of working in practice, which has changed drastically from the days when architects were acting as the ‘master builders’. We’d like to see more part-time architects teaching in our schools who bring in up-to-date knowledge of the latest technical and industry knowledge.
‘On the bright side, things are gradually changing with many schools offering live projects allowing students to develop hands-on technical knowledge and engage with end users, clients and other professionals, thus providing them with key skills for practice. Schools such as the CAT, Sheffield and Portsmouth place a strong emphasis on live projects.
‘Another issue discussed during ASN conferences was that it is the skills and knowledge that matter for being an architect and not necessary the number of years in education or where it was obtained. Therefore, we support the opportunity to have alternative routes into the profession and are hoping that the RIBA Education Review will enable this.’