Oxford’s failure to teach architecture is a disaster for architects and the country

Ben Flatman

Britain’s leaders are educated at Oxford – where they never meet an architecture student, writes Ben Flatman

For decades now, architects have been bemoaning their own waning influence as well as the ruling elite’s institutional lack of interest in design. Many of BD’s opinion pieces and comments echo this view, pointing to architects’ diminished status and our seeming inability to influence wider government policy on the built environment. We often blame the profession itself, and the perceived failings of an ineffectual RIBA. But what if one of the reasons for this professional impotence lay in the peculiarities of Britain’s higher education system and the failure of one of its top universities to teach architecture?

If you’re in a position of power in government, the civil service or business in the UK, there’s a significant chance that you went to Oxbridge. And in politics in particular, Oxford dominates. Eight of the current British cabinet were at Oxford; “just” four from Cambridge. When it comes to the top job, it’s not even a two-horse race. The last time there was a Cambridge-educated occupant of 10 Downing Street was in 1937. Since then we’ve had 17 prime ministers, of whom 10 were Oxford graduates. Only one of the other seven even went to university.

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