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In September 2005 the RIBA published the Vice President's (Education) Initiative (VPI), written by Simon Allford. A year on, many UK architectural schools are providing new styles of working and more exible ways of delivering their courses.

For example, the diploma course at Manchester Metropolitan School of Architecture now offers students a 'exible framework' for study. This is not a part-time course, but will enable students to work around any financial constraints that prevent continuous study. Head of school David Dernie says this approach is a response to the economic realities of certain students.

Oxford Brookes' deputy head of school Helena Webster expected increasing fees to lead to more students taking the parttime diploma. Instead, more students are taking on part-time work during their diplomas. To date there have been no obvious negative effects on students' work, but Webster feels this is inevitable given the competing workloads of a full-time diploma and a 20- or 30-hour working week. She believes that the VPI's paradigm of working part-time while studying was based on an overly rosy view of what it means to work in a practice. While some students may find interesting work in a supportive office, most do not - as Webster points out - work in an office like Allford's. Add to this the tax disadvantages of working part-time and prolonging study over four years, and students are voting with their feet away from the part-time study option. But the model they are shifting towards - a full-time course with a part-time job - is unsustainable and will lead to a deterioration in the standard of work, she says.

Jeremy Till, council member of the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture (SCHOSA) and head of Sheffield University's school of architecture, has been vocal about the ethical and practical need to rethink postgraduate architectural education. 'It seems many Part 2 courses are run for the purposes of the tutors and not for the students, ' he says. Till has developed Sheffield's Part 2 course to focus increasingly on the use of 'live' briefs where students work with real clients on projects. While he concedes that this approach means that his students' work may be slightly less polished than that of their peers, their design skills are, however, enhanced considerably by this set-up. Constraints on students' time or money mean that 'massaging portfolios into works of graphic beauty' seems decadent; particularly so when that approach does not seem to produce the best-equipped architects. The school has gone from running two live projects a year to 12.

Lee Wilshire, of student body ARCHAOS, notes the stigma attached to part-time diploma courses. For himself and his peers there are concerns about the lower standards of part-time courses, compared with full-time courses.

Last year's VPI called for 'different and exible patterns of study at Part 2 which reect the growing financial burden on students'. Schools are clearly taking steps, but the best way to achieve this aim is far from obvious. For the new recruits across the country who are about to start their diplomas, the part they will play in the vanguard remains to be seen.

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