A recent report by the UK Architectural Education Review Group has highlighted the high cost of education as a barrier which prevents less wealthy students from accessing the profession, reveals BDonline. Among a number of concerns raised about the current state of architectural education, it says that the cost to study architecture in the UK could “create an artificial barrier to the profession based solely on a student’s willingness to accept high levels of personal debt”.
Architecture has long been seen as a pastime of the wealthy, as evidenced by Philip Johnson‘s claim that “the first rule of architecture is be born rich, the second rule is, failing that, to marry wealthy”. However, the report acknowledges the fact that making the profession open to people of all backgrounds is not only a moral imperative, but will be vital to bring the best talent into the field.
Read more about the barriers surrounding the profession of architecture after the break…
The report, created as evidence for Terry Farrell‘s review of UK architecture, paints a worrying picture of the outdated system of education in architecture. It argues that the dramatic recent rise in university tuition fees – previously these were capped at £3,290 per year by the government, but in 2012 this cap was raised to £9,000 – combined with the extreme length of an architectural education is putting young people off studying architecture because they do not wish to enter into such an onerous financial commitment.
This, however, is not the only barrier which the report highlights. It also points to the fact that the current education system really has only one entry point – to begin with an undergraduate degree – and multiple exit points, or “failure points”, as they are usually perceived. This prevents students from moving into architecture from a related field such as engineering, planning or art; if they wish to change subjects, their existing expertise is disregarded and they must start again from the bottom of the ladder.
A further concern is that the existing regulation of schools of architecture by the RIBA and the ARB forces architecture courses to be ‘generalist’, thus discouraging or even excluding people who have an interest in a specialist area within architecture. Under the current system, courses are regulated by these two bodies and the report suggests that many schools of architecture are discouraged from creating innovative or specialist courses for fear that they will not gain that all-important accreditation.
All of these issues are seen as a result of an anachronistic and inflexible education system by Will Hunter, the deputy editor of Architectural Review. To this end, he has launched Alternative Routes for Architecture, a research group aimed at uncovering methods of teaching which bypass these issues.
While architecture has held on doggedly to old-fashioned teaching practices, one thing which is no longer true is that, once qualified, architects are rewarded for negotiating all these barriers. “to say that salaries in the profession hardly make up for this financial burden would be an understatement”, exclaims Hunter. Though the length of architectural education often means it is considered in a category alongside medicine or law, the reality is that architects’ salaries are nowhere near comparable to these professions.
The report by the UK Architectural Education Review Group also reveals a fundamental irony caused by these low salaries. Thanks to the UK government’s repayment scheme, where students only make repayments if they are earning over £21,000 a year, and any outstanding debt is written off after 30 years, a large number of architecture students are unlikely to ever have to pay for the full cost of their education:
“[based on a projection of] the average starting salary for architects, rising 5% annually throughout the thirty years following graduation… the results show that the student’s annual repayments never exceed the annual interest on their debt”
It therefore seems that in the UK, this “artificial barrier” is created more by a perception of cost than an actual cost to the student. This is in stark contrast to some other countries, such as the US, where a much less flexible funding system creates a very real barrier to students who are less well off; on the other hand, is it any more desirable? In the past, architecture was a highly respected and well-paid profession, but in turn was only available to a privileged few. Nowadays, architects’ wages are dropping on both sides of the Atlantic and they are increasingly marginalized within the construction industry. Simultaneous problems in both architectural education and the wider industry mean we currently have the worst of both worlds.