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Student costs threaten to sell profession short

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I have been disappointed by the lack of media or professional comment, or indeed letters such as this, on the proposed financial reforms to the higher education system as the government prepares to vote on the bill this week. Didn't the RIBA or ARB consider the implications of the introduction of top-up fees to our schools of architecture and to any future students who may be put off from setting out into the profession?

The BMA found the time to comment on the situation for medical students, but I can't help but feel our respective authorities have let their students down by not voicing any concern publicly. The £3,000 fees plus approximately £6,000 for maintenance (from my experience in the cheaper North) per year brings up total costs for a student of £45,000 for the three-year degree plus two-year diploma. The fact that the course is split by a year-out is of no relevance when we consider how much chance a student has to save up on Part I salaries. And after Part III fees, it isn't as if there is much of a long-term financial reward to look forward to which may help pay off the debts - as could be the case if one did 'invest' in a medical education.

I would have thought this would have been something both the RIBA and the ARB could have teamed up together on for future good, but perhaps our professional bodies are too busy looking sideways and worried about other areas of the profession before looking down to the grass-roots level.

I know education has been a hot topic lately from the point of view of the relationship between the student's education and the preparation for practice, but we must also look to initially attract the students themselves.

Perhaps if the bill is passed (and by the time of publication the result will be in), there would be a forced and not-otherwise-unneeded restructuring of the education and training for architects.

I was initially put off architecture by the costs of the course and opted to study something else, and although I have found my way back to it (at some expense! ), I think I might not have done if the system was as is now proposed.

Universities want and need the money one way or another - but we should help to challenge how they get it. Like doctors, the value of architects to society is surely worth paying for collectively rather than by the practitioners themselves. We must find some way to help the students of tomorrow - or the profession will surely go into steep decline and have an even weaker position in the construction industry.

Christopher Preston, AMEC Design & Management, and Part I year-out student at the University of Sheffield School of Architecture

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