The RIBA submitted its views on the government's proposed Graduate Contribution Scheme, ('top-up fees') to the DfES in April 2003 (a copy of our response is published online at www. architecture. com). Since then the RIBA has been monitoring the effect of the proposals on architectural education and will continue to do so as the Bill progresses through Parliament.
The RIBA has advised the government that a combination of high graduate debt and low graduate salaries (a recent employment survey indicated that average salaries of students graduating after five years of full-time study in architecture is £17,125), will have an adverse effect on the recruitment of architectural students from working-class backgrounds, and from families with no tradition of participation in higher education or the professions. Our profession has had a poor track record in recruiting and retaining female students, ethnic minorities and those from low incomes. Although we have made good progress in the past 10 years to address this imbalance, with initiatives such as 'Listen Up', undertaken with the Cabinet Office Women's Unit, the RIBA has expressed its concern to government that the proposals will prevent the further development of widening participation in the architectural profession.
The RIBA does recognise that extra investment required in higher education should come from those who benefit most, ie graduates, but that the system should ensure that those most disadvantaged in society still have the opportunity to study on lengthy courses such as architecture. Current proposals to reinstate a means-assessed non-repayable grant to poorer students is welcomed. However, we do not believe that current proposals go far enough to encourage those from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds to study long, intensive courses such as architecture, and we are making this view known to government as the Bill progresses through the committee stage.
Leonie Milliner, RIBA director of education