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Record number of women apply for architecture-related degrees

Architecture student

The highest ever number of women have applied to study architecture and related subjects at university in 2019, while applications from men have fallen

Official data from admissions body UCAS showed 18,090 women had met last month’s deadline for applications to full-time architecture, building and planning undergraduate degrees starting in September 2019.

This was up 5 per cent from last year (17,170) and represents a huge 38 per cent hike since 2013.

Meanwhile the number of men applying to study the same subjects dropped marginally from 23,560 in 2018 to 23,290 this year.

This means that 44 per cent of people looking to enter the profession through this route are now women.

Harriet Harriss, reader in architectural education at the Royal College of Art, said the rise in female applications was ‘extremely encouraging’.

But she added that numbers tended to drop off drastically at each step of the career path. ’Fewer women complete Part 2 courses and fewer still opt for Part 3 professional registration,’ she said.

Meanwhile the number of people from other parts of the EU applying to study architecture and related subjects in the UK fell by 3 per cent in 2019 to 3,560.

A 6 per cent rise was noted in the number of applications from outside the EU, to 7,110.

Applications from England were up 2 per cent to 24,660. Six in 10 applicants looking to study the subjects at UK universities are now from England.

Numbers applying from Wales fell 2 per cent to 860. Those from Northern Ireland rose 2 per cent to 2,310.

Scottish interest was down 8 per cent to just 2,890 applications.

Scottish architect Alan Dunlop said: ’Students in Scotland almost stumble into studying architecture by accident. Due to cost pressures on councils, the emphasis is on rote and science-based learning and computer skills.

‘Scotland may have an architecture policy, but that is not reflected in what is being built. Procurement, poor building standards, building failures and criticism in the newspaper and broadcast media of the profession in Scotland is making it less attractive to prospective students, combined with the worry of whether they’ll earn enough when they qualify.’

Overall there was a 2 per cent hike in applications to study architecture, building and planning in 2019.


Harriet Harriss, reader in architectural education at the Royal College of Art

’The number of women architects practising in the UK has hovered between a fifth and a quarter of the profession for more than 20 years. There are several factors that are influencing the lack of retention and progression.

’First, the architectural press has – quite rightly – become more proactive about reporting on the issue of gender inequality. But it has been very slow to report on BAME, LGBTQ and disability discrimination, despite the fact that the few statistics that exist reveal the extent of the problem is just as concerning. Students reading these reports in architecture journals, regardless of their gender identity – and we should be making more efforts to discuss issues of gender beyond the binary of male-female – are likely to question whether they want to work within our field as a consequence.

’Second, schools of architecture have been slow to de-colonise their curriculum, meaning that their reading lists, pedagogies and design briefs do not reflect the diversity within today’s student cohort and perpetuate – often unconsciously – biases towards a particular kind of student learner.

’Third, in both architectural education faculties and across architecture practices, poor representation at senior level indicates to BAME, LGBTQ and women students that their chances of professional advancement may be limited within our industry.

’In summary, we should avoid being overly optimistic about undergraduate statistics when both pedagogy and the profession are damaging female, BAME and LGBTQ progression and retention.

’What we need are institutional and professional policies that commit schools and practices to address these inequalities – not as a matter of choice, but as a professional obligation.’


Lucy Carmichael, RIBA director of practice

While it is great to see the continuing rise of female applicants to architecture courses, we need to make greater progress in retaining them. In addition to setting requirements on employment, equality, diversity and inclusion for our Chartered Practices, the RIBA already has a range of initiatives in place to attract, celebrate and progress talented female architects. For example, our role models projects shines a line on exemplar practices, we hold annual mentoring events for future leaders and small practitioners, and a nationwide mentor training and support scheme. We are also currently developing detailed guidance for practices to address the issues which cause gender inequality, and help close the gender pay gap.

There is work to do to ensure talented women stay in the profession and progress to senior levels in practice, and the RIBA is committed to driving the change needed.


Readers' comments (7)

  • Hang the gender issues! The number of acceptances is - to me at least - quite staggering. 40,000 per year?? Given an approximate graduation rate of 65% and a career of twenty five years, a pool of 650,000 construction professionals will be undercutting one another to survive in a sector of the economy that needs nowhere near such numbers.
    Too many Chiefs, not enough Indians

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  • John Kellett

    What is an ‘architecture related’ degree subject? There are no others that lead to membership of the profession of architect other than those approved by ARB. Or is there?

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  • Ian - these are applications not acceptances.......the number actually starting will be considerably smaller.

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  • Is there a split of the gender figures based on the UK applications and those from Europe and the rest of the world?

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  • Thanks Robert. Good news indeed!!

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  • But do they stay the course? How many go through to part 3 and become fully registered to practice? And in academe how many female professors of architecture are there with full research related qualifications? I rest my case . There’s no point even beginning to talk about other minority groups

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  • in my own MArch units, young women have often been the most talented and creative students.

    Why many women are not running major practices or making a more significant contribution to the profession is, consequently, disturbing.

    Architecture has always been driven by an exhausting and unnecessary devotion to work. This starts at university where you are given credit for the amount of time you are prepared to put in above all else. In practice, this culture continues and it is expected that you work long hours, much of which are unpaid.

    It may be that young women have other priorities and there is a woeful lack of financial support and adequate childcare provision, particularly for women who want to break this burden of expectation and have children.

    That a very low percentage of women become head of school or take up senior positions is also disturbing.

    I asked one of my students in Liverpool a very talented young woman why there seems to be a limited number of women leading practices and universities, she wrote this:

    "Architecture is 'sold' as a 7 year course and aged 18, this is long but maybe not too long to deter us, thinking it will all be done age 25. Then we get into the course, which has its own issues with a culture of long hours and mentally draining, and realise we most probably will not be fully qualified Architects anytime soon.

    For my male colleagues this is maybe not so worrying, but for myself and female friends it is a worry that our career choice pushes back other considerations, notably having children. The lack of flexibility in the structure of qualifying and a general lack of flexibility in practice until you are in a more senior role, compounded by the fact that many remain a Part 1 in practice for 2 years and a Part 2 in practice for around 3 means we are not qualifying until our late 20s and not reaching a place in our career to consider a family until later. Data shows women in architecture are leaving it later than the national average to have children, 32 compared to the national average of 28. I am sure wanting to be secure in your position in practice is a key factor for this later age -

    I cannot think of any cases of Part IIs having children and staying on in practice.

    A factor mentioned in the Ethel Day article cites gender discrimination. I have not experienced this myself particularly, in my Part I there were a couple characters in the office that I would say were very close to the line, generally the older male architects, but I am glad to say this was never a probably throughout university.

    Neither have I heard stories from friends at Liverpool. I would note that there is sometimes a tendency for tutors to assume female students will be more sensitive, or a joke made in a crit to that fact."

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