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Student survey reaction: ‘Is architecture a middle-class profession? Hell yes’

Architecture student shutterstock
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We asked students, architects and academics for their thoughts on the results of the AJ student survey and whether architectural education was becoming out of reach for all but the rich

Georgia green

Georgia Green, 20, Part 1 student at the Bartlett

There are many issues that can result in poor mental health for all students: a lack of relaxation time, too much work, not enough healthy socialising, concerns about how to get materials, let alone how expensive they are.

Many BAME Londoners live at home as they do not receive financial support. This is another complication, as home life might not be satisfactory. It also means that the poorer kids live further out of town; it takes them a lot longer to get into university and their sleep time is reduced. The inequalities exacerbated by the financial pressures of university require an in-depth investigation.

The architecture industry is broad and therefore the rise in the number of students dropping out doesn’t necessarily need to be seen as a negative. Those students who left architecture might have gone on to be planners or educators, and are shaping the city in different ways more suited to their needs.

Ashley mayes

Ashley Mayes, 24, Sheffield School of Architecture, Part 2 graduate

Cost has become a barrier to the profession. I would not have entertained the thought of studying architecture 10 years ago knowing what I do now. I know many of my peers, if they have not already sought careers elsewhere, find themselves in this paradox.

We must recognise that architecture students of today are the architects of tomorrow. For a profession that continues to struggle with diversity issues, the results of the survey are deeply worrying.

With the cost of studying architecture ever increasing, it is likely that becoming an architect will be seen as unattainable to those from less privileged backgrounds – sending them the signal that ‘architecture is not for you’.

Students from ethnic minority backgrounds appear to be more inclined to end their pursuit of becoming an architect early. We must recognise there is much to be done both within academia and the profession to prevent architecture slipping back to being just a white, middle-class, male profession.

Melissa kirkpatrick

Melissa Kirkpatrick, 23, Part 2 Collaborative Practice degree at Sheffield University

I would not have been able to pursue an architectural education had my parents been unable or unwilling to help, and this is the sad truth for many students.

Had I not been able to continue working during my MArch degree as part of the Collaborative Practice route, I would have had to reconsider my options and weigh up how much I would have to sacrifice in order to continue towards qualification. I will never be able to pay off the £90,000 student debt I will have by next year throughout my lifetime, and neither will any architect who has been studying since the rise of fees.

It is evident that within architecture schools there is a move back towards it being an ‘elitist’ profession, and a sentiment that architectural education should be more of a luxury for those who can afford to go the full way to qualification, rather than essential education available to all.

The fact that BAME students are wanting to leave the profession in my opinion is also a product of architectural education becoming more elitist, caused initially by high fees, making BAME students feel under-represented and undervalued within the industry. We need to move forward towards diversity in the industry, yet sadly the educational aspect of architecture seems to be pushing us backwards.

Piers taylora

Piers Taylor, founder, Invisible Studio, teacher

UK education needs to change. Generally the Part 1 is a pretty good grounding, but too often Part 2 is more of the same and, despite the rhetoric from architecture schools, isn’t much of a specialist or research training and doesn’t give you much you can’t get in a good practice.

Is architecture a middle-class profession? Hell yes, and I’m guilty: my parents helped fund my education and my first forays into practice and, embarrassing as it is, that is the reality of many people I know. My parents did believe in education though, and saw that helping me with education was the most important thing that they could give me – far more important than buying a house.

But it’s a tragedy that the way the conversation has been framed is that working-class people are often shut out of the conversation about the built environment, which means that not only can they often not afford to study architecture, but it isn’t often part of their interest.

So it must start earlier, at school, where an understanding of the built environment should be encouraged and your ability to have an active agency in it developed.

Ria barnes

Ria Barnes, 23, Part 1, University of Bath 

The fact that students are paying for help in their final year is completely absurd, let alone unfair on students who don’t pay for help, and makes me think that architecture schools need to teach a module on time-keeping and decision-making.

Increasing figures for studying and borrowing makes me sad, as it’s going to have a ripple effect on everything else students do in life, from owning a house to raising children.

Personally, without financial aid I would be choosing a different profession at this stage in my career. It would be a shame to see architecture increasingly swell into a profession exclusively for the elite. It could lead to a narrow-minded future for architecture.

Thank goodness for the recent arrival of apprenticeships for Parts 2 and 3; I’m certain they will be successful in creating competent, knowledgeable and better architects.

Benjamin carter

Benjamin Carter, 21, Manchester School of Architecture Part 1 architectural assistant 

The financial burden of studying architecture was always a proviso with which students are familiar from the outset. In my first year I sought financial aid from my family in order to support a study trip abroad. While the trip was mandatory, the university offered a UK-based study trip as an affordable alternative, and so claims that universities are unmindful of their students’ situation are not always true fact.

Throughout the entirety of my undergraduate study my parents have subsidised associated costs for living, yet the inordinate amount of debt and interest for tuition fees remains a real concern for me and will certainly defer my postgrad study and prolong the amount of time I spend in practice as an architectural assistant. 

At Manchester a meritocratic reward system from both participating universities means that the most accomplished students receive generous bursaries, and I don’t believe the individual’s wealth is conducive to the attainment of these awards in the slightest.

The university seems cognisant of associated costs and willing to assist individuals and the student body with costs, by providing a general bursary for all students at the beginning of each semester.

Ben derbyshire colour smiling

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire

I am concerned about the pressure our students face, particularly those with less or no family support, as they navigate their way through a demanding architectural education.

Because of the significant accumulation of debt, I am particularly concerned about the future diversity of our profession if we don’t stem the loss of potential talent discouraged by such a financial burden.

The RIBA has a range of measures in place to support student hardship and encourage more access to the profession including mentoring and bursaries – but there is more that needs to be done in terms of models for architectural education (including apprenticeships), which offer better value.

As always, architecture schools must also be alert to issues of wellness and do everything they can to support the mental health of their students.

Headshot rory luscombe

Rory Luscombe, 23, Part 1, University of Cambridge 2013-16 (second year out)

The extent of parental support does not come as any great surprise. Maintenance loans are a flawed system as they use household income to generate the maximum entitlement available, placing an inherent dependence on parents for support. For longer degree courses such as architecture, there is, therefore, an increased expectation on parents to provide sustained assistance.

Not only does this put greater pressure on parents, but it can also be demoralising for students wanting to be self-sustaining adults. My university forbade me from having a part-time job during term time, which enhanced my reliance on my parents’ support throughout my degree. I am likely to require their support until at least the end of my Part 2, and the survey results imply that I will be no exception.

High rents and low wages for Part 2 students exacerbate the problem, as saving money becomes difficult, and living at home is often not possible as Part 2 opportunities are limited outside the major cities. It is obvious that the traditional route to qualification is unsustainable in the current economic climate without the profession becoming limited to those who can afford the education process. 

Nick mcgough ww+p

Nick McGough, associate partner at Weston Williamson + Partners, lecturer 

The results here certainly do not surprise me and at Weston Williamson + Partners we have seen a growing trend for Part 1 students to stay with us a second year in order to finance their postgraduate study.

Being involved both in practice and academia, these survey results emphasise my own growing concern regarding the rising cost of an architectural education, especially when you relate that issue to the level of fees that are prevalent in the profession.

Diversity, too, including social mobility, must be a priority for a healthy profession; but the burden of debt any prospective architecture student is likely to face only makes this even more challenging.

There are, however, a growing number of alternatives to conventional full-time architectural education – most recently through the government’s professional apprenticeships scheme. But, with different educational and financial models being developed, focus must not be lost on the quality of education being provided, with the hope that these new models can help in creating a more socially inclusive profession.

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    Student survey reaction: ‘Is architecture a middle-class profession? Hell yes’

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