In an exclusive interview with Building Design, Eleni Kyriacou says that the Bartlett systematically discriminated against women in its grading and left a trail of devastated lives and students with long-lasting mental health issues


Source: Jack Hobhouse

The Bartlett by Hawkins Brown

The whistleblower whose complaints triggered the investigation that uncovered the toxic culture spanning decades at the Bartlett School of Architecture has welcomed the “damning” report which she said vindicated the victims.

But Eleni Kyriacou also claims that the extent of the sexism within the school, and the impact this had on many women’s final grades, has not yet been sufficiently revealed.

Speaking to Building Design, she shared data from a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request that points to significant underperformance by female architecture students dating back to 2007.

>> Also read: Bartlett suspends staff as investigation uncovers ‘toxic’ culture lasting decades

>> Also read: Bartlett report sheds much-needed light on our profession’s wider failings

The data supports her claim that there has been a general tendency for a higher percentage of men than women to get first-class degrees at undergraduate level between 2007 and 2019. Women were also getting far more 2:2s than their male counterparts. 

Women’s percentages improved markedly from 2017 onwards whereas those for men have been broadly similar throughout the period covered by the UCL data.

“There are people who have been unfairly failed and it destroys their life,” Kyriacou said. “They can’t get their RIBA part I so can’t be an architect – and they can’t do a masters in something else.

Why were women underperforming? There is no reason they should be underperforming. Their brains aren’t smaller

“For example, in 2013 16% of women got firsts against 33% of men. In 2018 it was 30% against 60%. That’s an insane difference,” Kyriacou said.

She believes the data should have alerted UCL sooner to the need to investigate systemic problems at the architecture school. Instead, she says, it was ignored for years.

“Why were women underperforming? There is no reason they should be underperforming. Their brains aren’t smaller.

“If you see this kind of thing, you should be investigating. They could have been monitoring this since 2007, but they did nothing.”

Kyriacou believes the grading had devastating consequences for many students. She wants UCL to identify the women whose grades were supressed and compensate those whose lives and careers have suffered as a consequence of what the report described as a culture of bullying, misogyny and sexism. 

“One woman got a 2:1 in her second year, with 67%, but was only offered her third choice of unit for the third year and ended up with a 2:2. This matters because, when you apply for a job, they are going to hire the guy with the 2:1 not the woman with the 2:2,” she said.

“That’s a lifetime loss of earnings because you’ll get a worse job than the man.”

Kyriacou said she lost a year of her life to depression after being bullied by staff in her second year at the school. She described having pages of her portfolio being ripped up by a senior leader and being forced to work through the summer to get into the third year.

She has since become a fashion designer and is based in Athens. She said it took her 20 years to pluck up the courage to make a formal complaint, only to be told by UCL that the college would only investigate if she found others with similar concerns.

“It was never my job to do that,” she said. “If they suspected there were more, they should have investigated, not asked me to investigate.”

Nevertheless, Kyriacou did find people through alumni social media groups and documented around 20 stories in a dossier published by The Guardian last year.

Kyriacou said one of the worst stories she heard was that of a bright woman who did well in her first year but badly in her second year after encountering a discriminatory culture. She was forced to retake the year with the same tutors - even writing to them to apologise if she had disappointed them, “such was the gaslighting”, said Kyriacou.

The woman scraped through her second year, but her third year also went badly. Her tutors failed her but allowed her to resubmit over the summer.

Kyriacou said the tutors pressured the woman to focus on her design portfolio during this process. As a result she handed in an essay late, just missing out on a first for that – and failing her degree by five points. “At the end of four years, she doesn’t have a degree.

She went through hell,” Kyriacou said. “And people ask why there aren’t more women architects…”

>> Also read: Do we value our profession so little that its future competence is left to chance? 

Last month, independent investigators from Howlett Brown published a 120-page report commissioned by UCL after The Guardian published the complaints gathered by Kyriacou from fellow alumni of the school.

The report blew the lid off a toxic “boys’ club”, detailing multiple cases of bullying, misogyny and racism and a “culture of protectionism” among staff.

One senior leader was said to have deleted complaints and normalised bad behaviour. Kyriacou described the report as “damning, comprehensive and unprecedented”.

Howlett Brown found that 66% of students who responded said the Bartlett had had a detrimental effect on their mental health. The firm’s report details multiple cases of students, especially women but also people of colour and others, being discriminated against, mocked in crits, verbally attacked, racially abused, touched inappropriately, wrongly told they were failing and being given less display space at the crucial end-of-year show.

“The report says they must introduce black-and-white criteria for grading because, if it is purely subjective, it gives scope for discrimination,” said Kyriacou.

She argues that the report is just the beginning and UCL now needs to identify those former female students who may have suffered from discriminatory marking and compensate them for the mental and financial damage caused.

Following her claims, UCL has shared data with Building Design which it said showed that the apparent gender bias against women has now been addressed. Professor Jacqui Glass, interim director of the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL, told Building Design: “We apologise unreservedly for the unacceptable behaviour.

“We know we have a way to go to rebuild trust, but we are committed to taking action to create a safer, supportive and more positive culture for students and staff.”

UCL should look into the cases of students who were unfairly graded and see whether there is a way of awarding them their part Is

Kyriacou said she was pleased that UCL was finally acting on the Howlett Brown investigation and urged that all of the report’s recommendations be followed. She wants long-standing staff to be dismissed, newer staff to be disciplined but given a second chance where appropriate, and for the unit and crit systems to be overhauled or reformed as laid out in the report’s recommendations.

She also believes that compensation for those who have suffered must now be top of the agenda. “UCL should look into the cases of students who were unfairly graded and see whether there is a way of awarding them their part Is,” Kyriacou said.

And UCL should pay compensation for medical expenses such as the counselling fees incurred by some students as a result of the Bartlett’s culture.

“Hundreds of people have been victims of misconduct here,” she said. “We have to hold them to account. It can be painful, but I don’t want the next generation to inherit what I had to go through.”

A group of high-profile figures in the architectural community have since submitted an open letter, published in Buiding Design, criticising what they regard as UCL’s over-hasty publication of the Howlett Brown report.

The letter argues that the anonymous nature of the acusations and widespread sharing of staff members’ names on social media has led to a “witch-hunt”. The letter also claims that the report ”conflates serious accusations of sexism, racism and bullying with trivial claims about informal staff-student socialising and studio reviews”. 

Building Design asked UCL to respond to the data that showed women were getting poorer grades than men 

Professor Jacqui Glass, Interim Director of the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL, said:

“We apologise unreservedly for the unacceptable behaviour that some of our students and staff experienced during their time at the Bartlett School of Architecture and thank everyone who has come forward to disclose what they have been through. We are taking immediate action following the outcome of an independent investigation.

“We regularly review levels of attainment and positive steps have been made to redress awarding gaps between male and female students over recent years.

“For undergraduate students, a similar proportion of men and women achieved 2:1 or first-clas degrees between 2014 and 2018 and since 2019, a higher percentage of women (22 per cent more) achieved a 2:1 or first.

“At a Masters level, a higher percentage of men got a distinction up until 2017 (56% to 44%) but this gap has closed, with female students outperforming male students in 2018 and 2020, with a near 50:50 balance in those awarded distinctions in 2019 and 2021.

“We know we have a way to go to rebuild trust, but we are committed to taking action to create a safer, supportive and more positive culture for students and staff.”