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Architecture student numbers on the up

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Figures released by UCAS show the numbers of students wanting to study architecture has increased

More than 200 extra students applied to study undergraduate architecture courses this year, according to the data released by the university admissions service.

The number of applications had dropped in the last two years following the introduction of £9,000-a-year tuition fees.

According to UCAS, 4,265 students have had their applications for places on full time undergraduate architecture courses accepted this year, cmpared to 4,060 the previous year.

Commenting on the figures Fionn Stevenson, head at Sheffield School of Architecture, said: ‘This rise in applicants shows the remarkable resilience of architecture as a highly attrractive discipline within the UK higher education sector. Nevertheless, there can be no complacency given increasing global competition, and we will need to continue to provide added value to our programmes.

‘The recent decision by RIBA to liberalise routes to accredition is very welcome, in this regard. It provides exciting opportunities for us to diversify and enrich our offer to future students. Although figures are up, they disguise the underlying trend of architectural education increasingly becoming a privilege for those who can afford it, and we are working hard to find ways to make our programmes more affordable for those with less income.’

Harriet Harriss, senior lecturer in architecture at Oxford Brookes University, also commented: ‘Architecture undergrad is seen as a very attractive foundation degree by students who simply want a diverse and rigorous learning experience, and don’t necessarily want to be an architect. It is a credit to the content and delivery of our programs - offered by all the UK schools - that we attract those who want to be architects as well as those that are interested in creative careers in general.

‘Whilst the recession seems long, architecture training and careers are longer. Strategically, an adroit undergraduate student might choose architecture on the basis that its a sensible place to hang out whilst they wait 7 years for the economy to improve.

‘But if under-graduate architecture is the inter-disciplinarians foundation course, then post-graduate is where all the vocational weight rests, and by implication offers a truer measure of the popularity of architecture careers.

But Harriss raised concern that applications for post-graduate courses in architecture may not be so healthy: ‘My concern is that we are not distinguishing between peaks and troughs in applications for undergrad against those in postgrad architecture, yet the decline in applications for post-grad courses is more acute.

‘Once the final cohort of subsidised fee paying students finish up - this September in fact - then the drop in applications for post-grad architecture will become more starkly apparent. This is more likely to indicate the true decline in the popularity of architecture careers.’

Further comment

Nathalie Rozencwajg, Rare Architecture

‘This is a positive reflection that our profession both offers an interesting and unique studying curriculum and is still perceived as offering employment prospective for the future whether in the UK or worldwide. The education and training offered in the UK is highly considered in this respect, in a global environment where mobility of students and professionals is increasingly facilitated.’

Elena Tsolakis, director at Kyriakos Tsolakis Architects

‘It’s really positive that more people are applying to undergraduate architecture courses this year. It means we are successfully increasing the public’s understanding of our profession and hopefully their perception of the value of our work. The reform in the education of architects doesn’t concern me in regards to this increase as any reforms will take place slowly. So it’s not an issue at all, it’s also up to the schools to deliver clear courses of architecture, whatever the changes or reforms to the education of architects.

‘It’s important that architecture is seen as a strong undergraduate course that can lead to a number of different career paths, not just onto becoming an architect. An undergraduate in law or engineering is seen as being solid undergraduate courses that lead onto many different things and I would like architecture to be the same.’ 

Andrew German, partner at Sheppard Robson and lecturer the RCA and MMU

‘The rise in applications is positive and the quality of applicants has improved perhaps due to the change of fee profile and focus of individuals applying. We should also consider that a significant level of applications in practice are now from those parts of Europe with struggling economies; UK trained applicants have dropped considerably. Whilst the changing demographic creates a true worldwide city of architects - an environment we all positively embrace - we have to ensure that when economies change we do not see a drain of intellectual capital away from the UK. The UCAS figures again need to be broken down and considered in the context of those who continue in our vocation in the UK. To that extent therefore they are not indicative of those qualifying.

‘Also, demanding only one year of professional practice under the supervision of an architect instead of two is positive in many ways, including recognising mobility of labour across Europe, however key to this is the nature of the four or five year course and the continued recognition of a three year degree. How this is viewed by current sixteen olds has yet to be seen.

Dominic J Eaton, director at Stride Treglown

‘It is tremendous that more students have chosen to study architecture and have not been put off by the length of the cause or the fees. I anticipate that there will be issues about too many students and limited employment opportunities. However, I have always felt that an architectural training is a great stepping stone to other design and art related opportunities. I also think that increased numbers will improve standards because of the competition to get jobs and drawing on a bigger pool of students.

‘I am not completely sure about what is being proposed by the major reforms to the architectural education, although I am opposed to reducing the course from seven to five years. However, I don’t think this reform is a factor that students are considering. The impression I get from students who want to be architects is that they will undertake whatever architectural cause is available, and will certainly not be put off by any changes.

‘This is a subject close to my heart given that my daughter is in her first year studying architecture at Plymouth University. It seems to me that a lot is still the same as it was when I was in my first year over 35 years ago – such as the importance of design, context, symbolism, crazy deadlines and all-nighters. Listening to my daughter recalling her first term experiences, it brought the memories flooding back.

‘However, I think the £9,000 annual fees will have an impact on numbers and I can see how the long courses such as architecture could become elitist and available for only the privileged. There is also addition expense for current accommodation and deposits for next year’s accommodation because this has to be organized now if they are to get decent premises with the people they want to share with. There is a very high financial commitment which I believe many students and parents will struggle to sustain. The impact of this might not come to light for a few years but I am convinced will make a difference to the number of students applying to do architecture and their backgrounds.

‘I am also concerned how fees and the resulting debt will impact on students starting out as young architects and their ability to get a mortgage. It seems that there will be a double whammy with eye watering debts of say £40 - 50k and the need to provide a deposit. I think even the bank of mum and dad will start to struggle.

‘On a positive note, I have noticed that the part 1 and 2 students that we are employing are brilliant, enthusiastic, ambitious and eager to be architects. I think given the talent of the next generation coming through, the profession is in safe hands and I am looking forward to seeing what they will do.’           

Roger Hawkins, partner at Hawkins\Brown

‘Studying architecture at undergraduate level is an amazing experience and having hundreds more creative people thinking laterally and understanding the importance of the built environment can only be a good thing. These students can graduate to inform the wider design and construction industries. It is perhaps more difficult to justify spending five years as an undergraduate. The recent ‘Pathways and Waterways’ report published by the UK Architectural Review group led by Alex Wright Chair, SCHOSA (Standing Conference Heads of Schools of Architecture) noted: ‘The existing requirements create a high cost of education which can inhibit widening participation from all areas of society and create an artificial barrier to the profession based solely on a student willingness to accept high levels of personal debt.’

‘What is needed is perhaps a more flexible approach to professional accreditation which allows post degree students support, teaching, mentoring and learning while they are employed.’

Roger Fitzgerald, chair at ADP

‘It’s good news that the interest is there, that more people want to study architecture. The question of course is: how many students will see the course through to the end, and are there going to be jobs available for them?

‘That’s really up to us, up to the profession, to make sure that the training stays relevant to how buildings are designed and constructed in the future. Architecture provides such a good, rounded education it can lead to any number of opportunities in the industry. So long as the training keeps relevant and up to date, and develops people with the right knowledge and skills, then we can use the increase in numbers to widen the influence of architects.’

Hugh Petter, director at ADAM Architecture

‘Architecture has always been a liberal arts style course with a high drop out rate after the first degree.  An increase in numbers at undergraduate level therefore is nothing to worry about in my view, save whether the universities have the resources to maintain the quality of the education that they offer for increased student numbers? 

‘A more telling statistic would be the number of students enrolling on part II courses.  The majority of these post graduates will go on to enter the profession.

‘I support the American model, which Colin Stansfield-Smith advocated in his review 15 years ago, that the UK should enable students with a first degree in another subject to undertake a post graduate conversion course – akin to a law conversion course.  This would encourage a more diverse intake into the profession and perhaps encourage the schools to offer courses which are more closely tailored to the needs of the profession.’


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