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Vetting the future for architects

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The surreal nature of educational pigeon-holing was revealed in all its glory last month. Education minister Kim Howells drew an important distinction between students training to be dentists and doctors, and those seeking to become vets and architects. The former category should have their fifth-year tuition fees paid by the taxpayer because they are entering the public sector (allegedly). The latter, by contrast, are going into wicked private practice, and therefore the capitalist running-dog employers should pay their fees for them. This delightful example of Old Labour demonology surely implies that practices will end up dictating the educational programme (is this what the government wants? ).

The combination of vets and architects is piquant.

If architects were more like vets, they would presumably be much more popular with the general public. There would be endless TV series with titles like Architects in Practice; It Should Happen to an Architect; and All Clients Great and Small ('Mr Farnum! There's a problem with the dpc on that warehouse estate!'). Scripts would show year-out students grappling with old-fashioned working methods, surprising the greybeards with their knowledge of semiology and CAD, but learning a few things about handling a public meeting, dealing with planners and, you know, life.

The late Eric Lyons, during his term as RIBA president, once attended a meeting of all the professions aimed at creating a political counterbalance to employers and unions. While it seemed a good idea, recalled Lyons, after about half an hour 'I realised I had nothing in common with dentists.' He said nothing about vets, but on reflection might have realised that they have more than a little in common with architects: the long training, the combination of theoretical and practical experience, and an ability, in all sorts of contexts, to deal with dumb animals.

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