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The numbers game: maintaining quality as student intake grows

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Three years ago, the current RIBA president, Paul Hyett, wrote a column in this magazine about the way that universities in this country were racking up their demands for better A levels. This was problematic, he argued, because A levels are by turns thought fully representative of a student's ability to become an architect by some, and worthless by others in academia. Admission departments'research also showed the 'chilling truth'that distinctions awarded with degree qualifications would be most likely to go to either those with the highest A level results - or those with the lowest. The A level gateway, Hyett continued, was also discriminatory to the less advantaged.And Hyett (one D, one E) was writing a week after an AJ story showed that universities were racing to fill a 7 per cent shortfall in applications, caused largely by the £1,000 student fees imposed following the Dearing Report. Architecture courses were long and becoming unpopular, but a shortfall in the actual architecture market might not all have been bad news. If supply exceeds demand, it is difficult for fee levels to remain high.

Now, with this week's news that schools are being overcrowded with architectural students, the reverse seems to be true. More students are being crammed in as a result of the unpopularity of construction courses - and architecture is being asked to make up the shortfall.

The tutors are worried that, as with the A level situation generally - where annually once results are out, there is a media-fuelled attack on the standards of education that must be slipping if so many can achieve high marks - overburdened tutors will lead to underqualified architects.

And RIBA statistics show that this is part of a trend. Since that drop in 1999, admissions to architecture have been on the upward march as construction has dwindled. They leapt by 11 per cent from 2,294 in 2000-01 to 2,543 in 2001-02 and anecdotally by up to 40 per cent now.

Solutions in education are never simple.But universities must resist the temptation to make architecture the dumping ground when construction courses fail, and adequately resource to make sure that, if admissions numbers rise, standards do too.

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