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Third of firms hiring fewer students

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AJ State of the Profession survey reveals market is picking up for many but employment hopes for young are still tough

More than a third of practices admit to taking on fewer student employees than they did 12 months ago, according to the AJ State of the Profession survey.

Encouragingly, for those looking for a year-out placement in 2013, the decline has slowed significantly from the start of the downturn in 2009 when 75 of practices said they were employing fewer Part 1 and Part 2 students.

However, the year-on-year reduction means the total number of students currently in practice is still below pre-recession levels.

According to the survey, which was completed by nearly 400 people, 41 per cent of respondents claimed student employment remained unchanged over the past twelve months.

The new figures came as Alison Coutinho of The What Now? Collaborative, a member of the steering committee for the AJ-backed campaign to reform architecture’s education system, said the ARB should ‘seriously consider’ a UK-only examination to create more flexible routes to a career in architecture.

The proposal was first mooted last month at an ARB board meeting by University of Bath head of architecture Alex Wright in response to potential new restrictions from Europe.

John Assael of Assael Architecture, who also sits on the ARB board, said students faced a ‘tough’ time finding work because ‘too many practices are on the brink of insolvency and this is reflected in the way they treat students, and indeed all their staff.’

He added: ‘This situation will continue until architects stop slitting their wrists with suicidal fees.’

Chris Williamson said his practice Weston Williamson had witnessed a ‘slight increase’, with six students now on its payroll compared to four last year.

But he added that there were now ‘far less opportunities for most graduates’, claiming the need for students to earn while studying and, in some cases work for more than a year before returning to school, was ‘not conducive to a well-structured education.’

Dominic J Eaton, director at Stride Treglown, said students struggling to start should ‘stick with it’ and not give up. ‘There is work out there and signs of improvements, the market will get better and more opportunities will become available,’ he said.

The latest RIBA Future Trends Survey revealed practices were employing 5 per cent more students than they were 12 months ago. Merlin Fulcher


Comment: Alison Coutinho, founder and architectural designer at The What Now? Collaborative

Alison Coutinho. Image by Balkaran Z Bassan

Source: Image by Balkaran Z Bassan

Alison Coutinho. Image by Balkaran Z Bassan

During the last five years, there have been a considerable number of debates and campaigns about the relevance of today’s architectural education and I have had the privilege of being invited to join some of these initiatives.  By way of context, I studied Architecture and Landscape at Part I and became curious about our strict linear educational system when there seemed to be little opportunity to pursue my landscape interests within the architectural education framework.  One of the first initiatives I was involved with was the ACA|RIBA Economic Recovery Taskforce in 2008 under Sunand Prasad’s presidency of the RIBA - an outcome of which was a widened recognition of types of professional experience needed for qualification.

Since 2010, I have run a think tank - The What Now? Collaborative - which explores this very issue with students, universities, practices and professional bodies and there is one thing for certain: the delivery of architectural education in the United Kingdom needs reforming.  Fortunately, most of the stakeholders in academia and the profession agree.  It is now widely recognised that whilst UK architectural education is regarded as world class, the system is archaic, inflexible, too long, too expensive and incongruous with changing practices in the built environment.  In a few months’ time, the European Union will amend its current directive on mutual recognition of profession qualifications across EU member states, and the UK will have two years to incorporate the new EU rules. 

2013 is therefore the year for reaching a consensus for change in the UK, accepting the facts facing us and reacting accordingly.  The supply and demand of architects is heavily imbalanced, and tied to that, approximately 70% of graduates at Part I join other professions.  Part I therefore ought to embrace this, liberate itself from its strict vocational label and instead brand itself as a Launchpad degree for budding politicians, planners, developers and, of course, architects.  In doing so, its nomenclature should also change - suggestions on the back of a postcard please.  The amendments to the EU Qualifications Directive are likely to continue to restrict non-cognate entry which means we need to seriously consider a UK-only qualification, as recently tabled to the ARB by Alex Wright, ARB Board Member and Head of Architecture at the University of Bath.  Wright’s research has found that the national average length of qualification is 9.5 years.  If Part I became a launchpad degree, the particulars of Part III and gateway point to the profession must also be reviewed. 

One consensus relating to cost, length and flexibility was established in November 2011 at ‘Education: A Charter For Change’, a speakers’ corner style debate and charter hosted by The What Now? Collaborative.  The 120 academics, students and practitioners in attendance signed the charter as a pledge to the institutions in power to act accordingly.  With change being inevitable, I look on to 2013 with excitement and with visions of the debates, articles, exhibitions and protests from the last five years coming together to make our education fresh, attractive and relevant.  Here’s to a new year and a new start.

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