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Students demand shorter courses as higher university fees take toll

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Nearly two thirds of students believe architectural education lasts too long

According to a new survey carried out by the AJ, 64 per cent of those polled thought the route to becoming an architect should be shorter, and 55 per cent of students called for the current Parts 1-3 system to be scrapped in favour of a quicker system.

The results of the survey, which drew responses from 364 undergraduate and postgraduate students, support the RIBA’s latest plans to abandon the three-part system and to develop a more streamlined architectural education system (AJ 05.12.13).

Matthew Wittrick, a Part 3 student at the University of Kent, said: ‘In today’s economic climate, and with fees costing so much more than they used to, architectural education has to be shorter. For the length of time you study, the financial rewards are simply not worth it. To ensure we don’t become even more of an elitist profession, we must reassess the system for a new generation.’

Despite taking a minimum of seven years to qualify, only 5 per cent of students thought their studies provided them with the skills needed for practice, while more than a third said what they had learned had minimal use once they were employed.

Scott Bearman, a Part 3 student from Manchester School of Architecture, commented: ‘The current system of five years in university with a heavy emphasis and focus on design fails to properly prepare students for the realities of working in practice. Students leave university poorly prepared, without the tools to effectively design and manage projects and still face a minimum of two years before they qualify.’

John Maxted, a Part 2 student at Birmingham School of Architecture, agreed. He wrote: ‘Universities fail to teach practical elements besides the art of making pretty pictures.’

The survey revealed that most students feel that practical work experience is vital in gaining the skills needed for practice, with 82 per cent claiming it is ‘valuable’.

Despite being in favour of scrapping the parts system, they remained supportive of the year out – more than 80 per cent said they valued it highly.

Have you had to work through the night?

Studio culture and deadlines remain a controversial issue for students. More than 80 per cent of students surveyed said they had worked through the night, with 41 per cent doing it on a regular basis. The amount of students working through the night varied little as they progressed through the education system. But Part 3 students were more likely to work through the night in the run-up to a hand-in – 48 per cent, compared with 39 per cent at Part 1.

Shaun McLeod, a Part 2 student at the University of Edinburgh, added: ‘The amount of work expected to be produced is borderline ridiculous sometimes. No job or university course should have you worrying about sleep or your health.’

Responding to the findings about excessively long hours, an RIBA spokesman said: ‘University is demanding; staying up all night may be part of the experience for many students on all types of courses and might best be considered as part of the professional learning curve. If the profession wants to remain relevant and reflect society, it must develop more flexible ways of working and put a stop to the culture of long office hours – this culture should start in our schools.’ 

Should RIBA provide better guidance on salaries for students?

Pay continues to be a major issue for students heading to work in practice. More than a third of students surveyed had worked for free at some point in their early career, and 86 per cent called for the RIBA to provide better guidance on salaries.

Alexandra Ewart, a Part 2 student at De Montfort University, said: ‘While there is guidance on pay, it is clear it is just that: a guide. Some practices are clearly exploiting graduates who deserve a fair wage.’

However, students are surprisingly confident about their job prospects. More than 60 per cent of those surveyed were positive about getting a job when they graduate.

What students said:

What do you wish you had been taught as part of your course?

  • Technical detailing and spatial perception
  • An understanding of politics and how it affects architecture and architects
  • Budget constraints and time frames
  • Practical detailing of buildings
  • How to deal with contractors and how to speak to clients
  • How to present
  • Practice management

What are the biggest issues facing the profession?

  • Erosion of the architect’s role
  • Lack of trust and respect from clients
  • Becoming irrelevant
  • Tuition fees making the profession more elitist
  • Lack of innovation
  • Poorly educated students

How do you see the profession in ten years time?

  • Very diverse
  • Uncertain
  • More fragmented
  • More of a multi-disciplinary profession
  • A change within the educational system is on the horizon
  • Less control on site with BIM featuring heavily
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