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Part 3 changes will strengthen profession

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The RIBA is laying the foundations for a long-term architectural education structure, says Paul Finch

Last week’s decisions on the future of architectural education, taken by RIBA Council at an ‘open’ meeting attended by a big audience of educators and practitioners, are certainly not the end of the matter; rather a solid foundation from which to build a long-term structure.

I had the pleasure of moderating the debate, while institute president Stephen Hodder conducted the formal proceedings, which comprised five separate but related motions, drawn up following a long review of current arrangements. Overseen by education director David Gloster and vice-president Roz Barr, the proposals were overwhelmingly endorsed by the 30 or so council members present.

While subsequent headlines about ‘the end of Part 3’ were true, they obscured the wider point, which is that the institute has voted for professional and practice experience to become part of the schools’ programme as a whole, rather than being a parallel (and in the case of Part 3 separate) requirement.

This represents a fundamental change to current arrangements because formal examination for Part 3 will cease. What is now taught will largely continue to be taught, but within the academic course itself. For some, this represented dumbing down. The institute’s position is that since validation will still be required, there will be an onus on the schools to ensure appropriate teaching is in place.

Course length under the new arrangements would typically be seven years, of which two would cover professional and practice matters, but there would be the possibility of reducing this to six. In either case, the arrangements would fall in line with EU templates, which offer a variety of ways for individual countries to meet the appropriate directives.

Although the new arrangements will be subject to the approval of the Architects Registration Board, it seems unlikely there would be any significant objection, since the proposals conform with EU requirements. More important will be discussions with the heads of schools of architecture, with whom relations seem to be cordial.

My impression is that RIBA Council wishes once and for all to make it clear that the education and training of architects is a matter for schools, subject to visiting-board validation of courses as a whole, rather than the current hybrid system.

The case for this to happen, and for greater flexibility as to how students become qualified, was put most clearly by Alex Wright, head of architecture at Bath University. He pointed out that in the last year for which figures were available, the number of architects from the EU admitted to the register who did not have UK qualifications was not far off the number from the UK who did. It is madness for schools in this country to be penalised in this way, and harmonisation (though not replication) seems the best way forward. Assuming all goes to plan, students who complete their UK school course successfully will qualify to be registered without any further examination.

Various questions arise relating to this new position. One is what academic title will be offered: MArch seems to be favoured by many but is not the only option. Another is whether it might be possible to fast-track to fewer than six years, though this looks difficult.

There are other questions, but they are about the details of what is taught rather than the structure of education, and the desired outcome of the new system. Just how many architects we need is one issue. The other is the continuing concern that design brilliance is premiated over all else, though the proportion of really good designers in any group is inevitably limited.

Questions for the profession as a whole, not just the schools.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Ben Derbyshire

    The RIBA should begin a process of redefining the covenant between architects as professionals and society. At a time when society is re-evaluating the role of professionals we must redefine what it is the profession has to offer, raising standards and improving value. Society recognises the importance of design quality and sustainability in the built environment and we train architects to fulfil this purpose. The profession's side of the bargain should be to update the Code of Professional Conduct, especially to recognise our duty to environmental sustainability. We should also reset the minimum requirements for chartered practice, raising the standards for predicting the performance of our output, post occupancy evaluation, participation in research, education and in-service training.

    Paul Finch correctly recognises that the RIBA has already begun the process of overhauling the education of its members with significant moves to enable more affordable, flexible, integrated courses. In future these should feature the opportunity for students to undertake training whilst in employment and learn the skills of practice much earlier in their courses. Professional life should be redefined as a continuous process of practice and learning from enrolment to retirement and the RIBA should respond to this with an offer that recognises membership of the Institute at a junior level much earlier than at present, moving subsequently towards fully independent practitioner status by a variety of routes.

    The parallel existence of the Architects Registration Council and the RIBA as institutions which both purport to maintain standards of professionalism, accredit schools of architecture and use different codes of conduct and procedures for disciplinary purposes cannot be in the public interest. Far from it - the duplication is bafflingly confusing for professionals and the public alike. Moreover, the influx of EU trained architects without professional practice qualifications who are automatically entitled to registration as architects by the ARB is diluting the standing of the profession. The so called 'light touch' regulation which was the provisional outcome of the last Government review of regulation will do nothing to secure the future of the profession. Our strategy should be to raise standards of RIBA Chartered Practice in a new covenant between the profession and society which will in time render the ARB an irrelevance and it should be wound up before this happens.

    Ben Derbyshire.
    Managing Partner, HTA Design LLP
    Chair, Housing Forum
    RIBA Council Member.

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