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Debunking the architecture school rankings

Rory Olcayto

The schools are doing fine regardless of The Guardian’s rankings, says Rory Olcayto

In an interview published in this week’s Culture section, Delft Technical University’s new chair of architecture, Daniel Rosbottom, criticises the AJ for giving credence to the ranking of architecture schools carried out by The Guardian. Ridiculing the fact that The Guardian ranked the Cass at London Metropolitan University – widely considered to be one of the UK’s best schools right now – at the lowly position of 43rd out of 47 courses, Rosbottom said such measures did ‘little to contribute to a genuinely useful debate’.

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why this year we’ve challenged the rankings by visiting The Guardian’s bottom-ranked 10 schools to get a sense of what they offer prospective students, the culture they foster, and the links they have with the profession. In truth, the AJ is a strong supporter of architectural education in the United Kingdom.

My own feeling, in fact, goes a little further than mere support: I’d say our schools are one of the strongest components of British architectural culture. Furthermore, not only do most schools have very good links with practice, many of them are also helping form new ideas about practice and the nature of architectural professionalism in a globalised, market-obsessed economy.

So why bother with The Guardian’s league table at all?

Because, despite the obvious shortcomings of its methodology, which values hard data more than qualitative research, it is not only consistent and thorough, it is something many schools approve of.  This year, for example, Kent School of Architecture celebrated its 10th anniversary in the same year as it moves to number three in The Guardian’s ‘charts’, and school head Don Gray was proud of Kent’s podium position. But then he was proud, too – as he should be – of the quality of teaching he has fostered there, and of his students’ output, both of which I had a taster when I opened Kent’s summer show in June.

Anyway, it’s no good ignoring the influential Guardian rankings exercise. At the AJ we take the debunking route. That’s what journalism is for – and it’s more fun than sticking your head in the sand.

The bigger problem, as our own student survey shows, is the cost of an architectural education today. A quarter of students can expect to be in debt to the tune of more than £50,000 by the time they finish their courses. As Rosbottom says in his interview, had he been faced with amassing a similar debt during his studies, he wouldn’t have become an architect. I was warned, too, during my visit to the Cass that the £9,000 fees were transforming a once socially diverse school into a rich kids’ indulgence.

While I fully understand Rosbottom’s advice to prospective students to consider studying abroad in light of the spiralling costs at home, the AJ’s advice is to stay and fight – for free higher education for all.

If Scotland can do it, England can do it. Austerity is a lie.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • The Guardian readership levels are significant. I can see where the AJ might have some issues with it - but where are the prospective students getting their info..and just as important, their parents.

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  • How on earth does an article about university rankings turn into a left-wing rant...

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  • If you are referring to the Guardian comment - it was about the numbers, not ideology. The AJ readership is tiny compared with the broadsheets

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  • How the hell can they all charge the same price when they clearly are not as good as each other? In what other situation is the price inflexible regardless of quality? It is just bonkers.

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