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Scrapping student grants will cause talent shortfall, say architects

Architecture Students
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Architects and students have hit out at the government’s decision to scrap maintenance grants saying the move will deter budding architects from going to university

The plans were first announced by George Osborne in the Budget but the change, which is expected to affect more than half a million students, went through without a debate or vote in the House of Commons last week (14 January).

The changes would particularly affect Part 1 students, who at the moment can receive a grant of up to £3,387 a year if their family’s income is less than £25,000.

The money which is to go towards living costs rather than fees can help finance course materials, books and field trips.

Vinesh Pomal, architect at Levitt Bernstein and RIBA Presidential Ambassador for Young Architects, said the move was a ‘travesty’ and that it would ‘prevent students from lower economic backgrounds from reaching higher education.

‘The financial implications of studying architecture are already a huge barrier to social mobility, especially in architecture with its long and expensive course structure. Scrapping these grants will only make matters worse. As a result, we’ll be getting a huge talent shortfall.’

He added: ‘As a profession, we need to campaign against the withdrawal of the grant for the future generation of would-be architects, who will not enter the world of architecture without it.’

Architect John Assael, whose practice supports a number of students with funding for their architecture courses, agreed. 

’I deeply regret the abolition of maintenance grants as this will further exacerbate the increasing lack of diversity in the architectural profession’, he said. 

He also urged more practices to support students and help with the cost of studying architecture. He added: ’More practices should do this especially in the context of the Government slashing maintenance grants.’

While Part 2 student Lily Ingleby said: ‘It’s a terrible move away from education equality and creating diverse and representative professions of the future.’

Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found scrapping the grants would result in the poorest 40 per cent of students leaving their studies with debts of £53,000 for a three-year-course compared to £40,500 before the cuts.

Under the new system students will be entitled to £8,200 but unlike the grant it will have to be repaid once they earn more than £21,000 a year.

A petition launched against the plans has already amassed 6,881 signatures.

The scrapping of the grants will affect students starting university in September 2016.

Comments

Vinesh Pomal, architect at Levitt Bernstein and RIBA Presidential Ambassador for Young Architects

‘First the Government withdrew the Education Maintenance Allowance for Further Education and now maintenance grants are being scrapped. This is a travesty; creating real, tangible barriers that will prevent students from lower economic backgrounds from entering higher education.

‘The financial implications of studying architecture are already a huge barrier to social mobility, especially in architecture with its long and expensive course structure. Scrapping these grants will only make matters worse. As a result, we’ll be getting a huge talent shortfall.

With some effort the profession can be open to all 

‘The RIBA Role Models project demonstrates that our profession is becoming increasingly inclusive, but that with some effort it can be open to all and allow individuals to thrive. However, it seems this is not the government’s priority – only making higher education an option for the wealthy and lowering students’ aspirations.

‘Personally, the maintenance grant was a necessity during my undergraduate degree and without it I wouldn’t have been able to go to university. There are thousands more like me that will be denied this opportunity should these grants be scrapped. As a profession, we need to campaign against the withdrawal of the grant for the future generation of would-be architects, who will not enter the world of architecture without it.’ 

Lilly Ingleby, Part 2 student at Sheffield School of Architecture and RIBA student councillor

‘Commenting from my position as an architecture student who has received maintenance grants throughout my education, I feel that scrapping the maintenance grants will really deter students from low income backgrounds from higher education. It’s a terrible move away from education equality and creating diverse and representative professions of the future.

It’s a terrible move away from education equality

‘Without maintenance grants, 18 year old me would have done the maths, been horrified by the amount of debt I would be expected to take on, and simply not chosen to go to University, let alone a lengthy course such as architecture. The only route into the profession I may have considered would be to work in a practice, and gain sponsorship through my education. But there is little incentive for practices to invest in students at such early stages of their educational journey, as there is such uncertainty over the paths they may follow, so this is not a realistic route for many to follow. Whilst there is the popular misconception that architecture is a well-paid profession, student numbers may not be too hampered, however I don’t believe this will last forever as publications such as the AJ100 increasingly better inform those considering entering the profession.

‘Universities, the RIBA, and many charitable trusts and organisations (and even the AJ) are increasingly offering bursaries or scholarships to try support and encourage educational diversity in this political climate. Indeed this helps, however, I don’t think it’s an adequate replacement for a fair system. Bursaries and scholarships are few and far between, and not all aren’t means tested or targeted at groups which may be at risk of exclusion. It’s immensely risky for a student who would typically rely on the maintenance grants to embark on a lengthy education with no guarantee of being awarded a bursary of scholarship throughout their education, putting students under even more financial and competitive pressure. It’s a sad day for educational equality!’

John Assael, founder, Assael Architecture

’I deeply regret the abolition of maintenance grants as this will further exacerbate the increasing lack of diversity in the architectural profession. 

’Part time or office based courses will be the only way that some students can qualify, especially at Part 2 or masters level. We welcome courses at Cardiff, Cambridge, Bath, London School of Architecture, the RIBA/Oxford Brookes office based course and at Sheffield where students have the opportunity for all or at least part of their course to be earning a salary as well as studying. 

’As responsible employer, we provide a flexible approach for students to study as well as paying all their fees; without this help many of our candidates would never make it into the profession.’

James Soane, director, Project Orange

‘Just at the time when we need young architect’s to become active participants in the future of our cities, our provision for housing and our stewardship of the environment, the government reduces the level of support for students to a non-existent level.

This will result in a lost generation of potential architects

’There is no doubt that this short term cost-cutting policy will result in a lost generation of potential architects, thinkers and policy makers. Those that can afford to study will become part of an elite group who will not be representative of the UK’s amazing talent pool.

’New models of education are taking up the challenge, but with little support we are seeing the end of an era, where the subject of Architecture is not a realistic choice for most people.’

Fionn Stevenson, head, Sheffield School of Architecture

’The scrapping of maintenance grants for the very poorest students is a shameful act by the current government. It was not part of their manifesto and is justified by spurious claims that poorer students will be more encouraged to apply given the increased loans that will be introduced instead. If you are poor and faced between choosing a grant and a loan - which would you go for? The answer is obvious - it is extremely offputting to know that you may be faced with repaying a loan for the rest of your life. This government is simply increasing the unhealthy debt culture that our students already have to endure.

’The degree of civil society that a country has can be measured by its level of taxation. This is plainly visible in the EU and beyond. This government is hell bent on reducing taxes rather than raising them appropriately to ensure equality for all in education. That is the reason they are getting rid of government grants wherever they can.

This will affect the number of students applying for architecture

’Will this affect the number of students applying for achitecture? Of course it will. Even when we manage to reduce the time spent in full-time education for students, as we are doing in Sheffield with our new RIBA accredited M.Arch Collaborative Practice route, where students spend a year in practice while they are learning with us, some students still need grants.

’The RIBA and higher education institutions should be fighting these iniquitous changes brought through the back door, tooth and nail, to ensure that we always enable talented students, whatever their background, to study architecture without having to fear massive debts.’

Satwinder Samra & Sofie Pelsmakers, Sheffield School of Architecture & RIBA Role Models

’If the current fee regime had existed when we were eighteen, we would not have started the journey to study architecture. The cutting of maintenance grants only raises the barriers for many talented students to enter the profession, which is already fairly exclusive. We need architects from all walks of life to contribute to the built environment - not just those that can afford it.

We risk losing the value the next generation can bring to the profession

’The RIBA Role Model Project captures the barriers we individually faced but also the contributions we made; we now risk losing the value that the next generation can bring to the profession. One way forward is for architecture schools to develop practice based learning capturing the student’s everyday experience as live academic content.

’We’ve done this with our new MArch Collaborative Practice course which allows students to ‘earn as they learn’ whilst working with leading UK practices. We’ve worked closely with both the RIBA and ARB to develop this initiative. Education and practice need to work collectively to ensure we have a future proof education system that encourages all students to achieve their potential.’

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