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UK and US parity is a matter of urgency

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UK architects are shut out of the US and Canadian markets right now, and continue to be so despite being part of the EU's negotiating cartel on a revival of mutual recognition. Things have to change.

Our collective contempt for bad architecture, bad client services and poor standards of health and safety could become a basis for the architectural profession's equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath. Perhaps ours should be called the Vitruvian or Fergusonian oath. If properly defined, this would represent a benchmark upon which the general public everywhere could rely. Experience in the US suggests that, whatever standards we aspire to in the UK, our benchmark is an unknown quantity and, when it comes to registration, not at all exchangeable with the US one.

The arguments in favour of the EU publishing an internationally recognisable benchmark go beyond current concerns about demarcation between RIBA and ARB. These arguments are about consistency and public confidence, and are undermined by the current lack of published core values beyond the general ones of the UIA (International Union of Architects).

No one within the EU is speaking about specific minimal course content or wanting to get into the area of defining a common EU benchmark. When, as a result of this in the UK, courses at Cambridge and De Montfort slip off the profession's radar screen, we all feel some discomfort that the system has been untrue to itself.

When the UK profession as a whole slips off the radar of entire continents, as it has since 1990 in North America, we feel that the UK (and EU) system has betrayed its costly products.

The US saw this situation coming and has spent years going beyond the generalisms of the UIA and perfecting, with its Canadian counterpart, a nine-part computer-administered egistration exam hat is neither in the hands of the profession nor the schools. Schools are recognised, not for 'exemption' from registration exams, but for their capacity to deliver graduates who are eligible to take them. UK graduates, architects and mature practitioners alike are thus all confronted with this hurdle when entering North America.

UK registration does not even feature in the evaluation process towards US registration. This is because the EU's diverse licensing systems are configured in ways that do not readily suggest parity with North American counterparts. The step toward parity is not a large one but we'll need to go beyond promises or oaths. The North American system relies on a published national curriculum for the registration exam that is constant to all entrants. The EU's education systems and core values are undeniably superior and could so easily be defined as such, but there is currently as little interest in doing so as there is in defining a uniform minimum content for UK courses.

Coordinating registration bodies, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the Committee of Canadian Architectural Councils (CCAC), badly need to understand our benchmark - not only to be able to restore us to the North American radar, but to keep their various member licensing boards off the backs of incoming EU architects.

This will be the ultimate test of the core values that we cherish so dearly, but only express in ways that neither help schools to deliver qualified graduates nor reassure the 55 US licensing boards that our architects are as good as theirs.

Tim Clark, presiding chair RIBA-USA, California

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