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Universities don’t exist to create oven-ready graduates


Practices are claiming architecture schools don’t teach the practical skills. Isn’t that their job? asks Rory Olcayto

According to a new survey for the Royal Institute of British Architects, four out of five employers believe architecture schools are failing to provide students with the skills needed to practice. You’ve no doubt heard this many times before. As one comment on our web story says: ‘Are we not raking over old ground here? This matter was raised over 35 years ago.’ Maybe so. But clearly it’s still a relevant point. Yet having studied architecture at university myself, and worked in practice for a number of years, something nags.

Our story would make as much sense if the headline read: ‘Four out of five students believe employers are failing to provide them with the skills to practise’. After all, isn’t it the duty of the profession to train prospective architects? Isn’t that why there are two years of practice training in the seven-year slog required to attain the RIBA’s seal of approval?

Call me a cynic, but what four out of five architects seem to be saying in this NBS poll for the RIBA is: ‘Students – and the universities they graduate from – are stifling our profits.’ This goes to the heart of a profession unable to fulfill both its desires and obligations. If the work you take on doesn’t allow you to pay overtime, for example, or provide the extensive in-house training graduates need, then perhaps you shouldn’t be taking that work on. The findings also raise questions over what we think universities are for. My own view is that they shouldn’t be used to cookie cut oven-ready fodder for the workplace. If that was all university entailed, who would even bother to study architecture? Yes, this debate is set to continue – for at least another 35 years.

The Ada Louise Huxtable Prize
This year we have created a new award for the Women in Architecture programme: the Ada Louise Huxtable Prize. The criterion – women who have made a significant contribution to architecture but who are not architects – doesn’t trip off the tongue. But, given the number of great names who fall into this category, it’s a prize well worth celebrating. The inaugural winner too, sets a high standard for future candidates. If you don’t know Jane Priestman, she’s the woman who, as design manager of the British Airports Authority, commissioned Norman Foster to design Stansted Airport, and as director of architecture and design for the British Railways Board, did the same for Nicholas Grimshaw at Waterloo. Many congratulations Jane, from all at the AJ!

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto


Readers' comments (8)

  • I see Rory’s point that employers should be more responsible in taking on work with reasonable fees, however I believe universities should prepare students for practice. Those employer’s opinions are legitimate – it is not about ‘stifling profits’. Our profession is inefficient in training younger generations and it is the students who ultimately pay for it with low starting salaries and sometimes years of battling with the realities of practice before they are profitable enough for their companies to offer a higher salary. It is abhorrent that many practices take advantage of this too. Ultimately, many students leave the profession in an extremely precarious financial position as a result (or they continue in such a position), which is demoralising and wasteful to our economy.
    It isn’t the duty of the profession to prepare students. In-house training should be provided by practice certainly, but £9000-a-year bachelor course fees should provide practical understanding and include in-practice training in that 3-year period. A year-long masters course focusing on design is sufficient, but should not be essential to registration.
    Universities treat students as cash-cows, providing inadequate training to students too inexperienced to realise they are being taken for a ride. The only power that students have to change this situation is their choice of university - and most students don’t know the state of architectural education when they make their degree choice. Young students are too often taken in by beautifully presented end-of-year shows and the idea of calling themselves capitalised Architects. Those universities should be ashamed and the RIBA should be ashamed for encouraging them with president's medals. The opinions expressed in unions such as the Architecture Students Network and campaigns by the media are critical to galvanising change. Why aren’t we raising more awareness? Why aren‘t there more campaigns? Why isn’t the AJ championing change? What action is being taken on the RIBA’s Skills Survey report? Can anyone from RIBA comment? Is anyone doing anything about this?

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  • I guess the question is what are Universities supposed to do for their 9 big ones per year?
    I certainly embarked on the training with the belief that I was being trained to be ready to practice as an Architect.
    If universities don't want to be required to 'train' architects maybe they should tell the truth on open day that they think it isn't their job to train you as ready for practice. Better yet, maybe the RIBA and ARB should make it an accreditation requirement that universities tell students this before they sign up.
    I wonder how many students would sign up to racking up this massive debts if this was the case..........

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  • Ben Derbyshire

    I believe there is a considerable appetite amongst practices to undertake the training of young architects. I have been arguing for earlier recognition by the RIBA, perhaps after three years, and then a system of apprenticeships and Masters in specialist areas for further training of the architectural equivalent of junior house doctors. Chartered practices could be accredited to provide the basis for this. Does anyone out there agree with me? It would be useful to know ahead of the RIBA Council education debate this spring.
    Ben Derbyshire
    Managing Partner, HTA Design LLP

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  • Er... YES it is perfectly reasonable for th profession to expect better trained staff in 2015!
    I am astonished at your statement " If the work you take on doesn’t allow you to pay overtime, for example, or provide the extensive in-house training graduates need, then perhaps you shouldn’t be taking that work on."
    Do you get out of the London hotspot at all?
    Fee level;s have declined by 40% in 5 years and salaries have barely moved in 8 YEARS according to your own AJ100 survey 2014. Just where are these practices supposed to find the money to do this?
    Attacking 80% of your readership is somewhat ill-advised!

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  • It's a debate Paul. Thanks for your comment. Not everyone has been as astonished as you, though. If you're a regular reader you'll know too that the AJ editorial team regularly gets out of London. We obviously have more to do to shift your perception of us! You list some of problems facing the profession to do with fees - do you think better trained students will solve them? And don't you think you and those in practice have a role to play too? What's the two years in practice for? Of course, opinion should be treated as opinion, rather than fact - and that's what I've given you. That said, I can’t see what’s unreasonable to suggest to the profession that paying overtime and training future architects should be central to a practice’s duties. You’ve obviously got some thoughts to share though – so could you address how students can become better architects? cheers!

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  • Hi Rory.
    I have talked at 10 universities to date on this, the last being QUB. I also did a talk at RIBA Guerilla Tactics on things like brand strategy. My issue is the fundamental positioning of the architect in the value chain and how education can shift its focus a very little away from design and towards getting value for that design. I would be happy to expand on this as I see almost nothing about this end of the business in the professional communication. I have already suggested this on several occasions to the previous editor and other members of your team. I did not get a reply.
    I am on the council of Manchester Architects (previously known as Manchester Society of Architects). We would welcome your guys coming up to cover our awards. In the past we were told you wouldn't come.....hence my comment.
    Given we are the largest society outside of London, we did not think this unreasonable....so I cordially invite you to our next awards at the beginning of June!.
    Two offers in one reply!

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  • Every practicing architect out there knows what Paul is talking about. Ben Derbyshire's idea is a good one I feel, scrap Part 2 & 3. Maybe the degree should be a four year masters as standard, followed by a guaranteed apprenticeship at practices. The practices should also be able to contribute to crits (perhaps even bringing their clients and other consultants along, and also contribute to briefs) and follow the progress of students. Course tutors and leaders could develop links with practice on this basis. There would have to be some kind of financial incentive for small practices simply that they could afford the time (to attend crits etc..), which could be achieved by raising the fee level from 9000 to say £12000 a year (for 4 years only). After a 2 year paid apprenticeship, take exams for final registration. Practices should also be more actively involved in school. accreditation. the cost of this course would be £48,000 as opposed to the current £84,000.

    What do I win?

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  • Paul - we will gladly take you up on your offer to come to the MSA awards...

    and as for writing - please send us your proposal and we will consider it seriously.

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