Sunday20 August 2017

Farrell squares up to universities

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Head of government review raises concerns over poorer students

Terry Farrell has put himself on a collision course with universities after saying architecture courses need to be shortened.

The architect is heading a government review into the industry, due out at the end of the year, and this week told BD his most pressing concern was education.

“The most important thing is the length of the course and [finding] hybrid ways to learn,” he said.

Architecture minister Ed Vaizey, who appointed Farrell earlier this year, said courses could be shorter and cheaper. “I would look to the RIBA and higher education institutes to find answers.”

Farrell echoed a report put out in April by the UK Architectural Education Review Group, headed by Bath University’s professor of architecture Alex Wright.

That report said the current course requirements “inhibit widening participation” and Farrell this week said: “One of the big problems our profession has to look at is that it’s still a profession for better-off people. With fee levels how they are, we have to think about access.”

Farrell has voiced fears that architecture students will have to shell out £100,000 to complete their studies meaning only the well-off can afford to study.

And Wright said Farrell should not be afraid to propose an overhaul of how students study. “We’ve had an education system that’s been stable for 50 years. We’re now entering a period where we can usefully revisit the framework we’ve got.”

But Farrell is expected to meet resistance from a number of universities who will say that cutting course lengths will dumb down the profession.

“I don’t think courses are too long,” said the former vice dean of the Bartlett, Neil Spiller, who is now the dean of architecture at Greenwich University. “Would you like your doctor, lawyer or accountant to be not quite as well qualified in the future?”

And Alan Chandler, the architecture programme leader at UEL in east London, said: “Our mission is to teach ordinary people how to be an architect. We are unselective and never have the calibre of easy access. [But] you have to be careful about what you can cut. Terry can say courses are too long but I’d like to hear him say what exactly they’re going to cut.”

League table lessons for Greenwich and UEL

Greenwich and UEL occupied the bottom two places in the latest Guardian league table of architecture schools – but both have said next year’s table will see them higher up.

Neil Spiller joined Greenwich nearly three years ago and admitted: “It’s very hard to turn around a school of architecture – that’s why most people don’t do it. When you restructure a school there is a lot of turmoil. There’s been a considerable change in personnel and many of the key positions have changed hands. Staff are working in a much more efficient way than has happened previously.”

Greenwich came bottom of the table but Spiller said this year’s end of year shows were proof the school was on the right track. “The current crop of students have done very well,” he said. “This table is not a picture of now, it’s a picture of a year ago.”

Later this month, Tony Fretton begins a two year stint as visiting professor at UEL and Alan Chandler said his arrival was part of an initiative to improve the education for its students.“The important thing is that Tony wants to teach here.

“We will never be in the top half of the table but we’d like to be somewhere in the middle,” he added. “From September 2013 we’re putting a marker down and a change of gear and if we don’t shift by the end of next year, then we’re not doing the right thing.”


Readers' comments (26)

  • Ok, let's do the same with medicine and law; it takes far too long to become a doctor or lawyer. It's more important to 'widen participation' than ensure one is competent. The real question is whether the 5 years of education is delivering the goods.

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  • Oops, missed the last two paragraphs...first time I've agreed with Neil Spiller!

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  • james francis


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  • Wow only around 15 years too late!

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  • Too many architects just end up as CAD jockeys, you don't need 5 years for that.

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  • The real issue is the better integration of the reality of working as an architect - warts, door schedules and all - into the education system. Too many architectural students leave university completely unequipped for what the real (practice) world requires of them and are in for a nasty shock until they acclimatise.

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  • The issue of education is tied up with the issue of practice and involves a load of different issues which are not simply addressed by simply stating the course is too long. However, surely the issue of social exclusion is based on the cost of studying architecture. It didn't arise when course fees didn't exist. Given that an architect is unlikely to pay off the three year course fees it makes no difference if they have 5 years to pay off!

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  • Wren, Vanbrugh, Lutyens...et al.... none of those had to go through the 'professional education' route.

    Funny how the role of architects has diminished ever since it became a 'profession' involving the university system.

    Skills not thrills is what is required in architecture.

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  • SoupDragon - I entirely agree, and would add that isn't it funny how the general quality of new buildings has declined since the introduction of the university education system? And I'm talking about the 90% dross as opposed to the 5-10% decent stuff.

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  • The difference between Architects and Doctors / lawyers is that the job they do is completely protected by law. You never see Joe Blogs suddenly deciding to undertake surgery, but normal householders believe that they can draw up extensions both for themselves and for "friends"
    as a result doctors and lawyers earn upwards of £100k per year whilst a fully qualified architect might receive £40k+

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