Qualifying as an architect is a notoriously long road.
For an aspiring architect the minimum route to registration with the Architects Registration Board is seven years but will typically take eight or nine years. Compare this to qualifying as a lawyer – typically six years, or a doctor – also six.
In an era of rising student debt there have been increasing calls for reform and a consultation launched by the ARB this week (8 February 2023) proposes the most significant changes to the way initial education and training of architects is governed for 50 years.
A new route
As the regulator of architects, the ARB, a statutory body established by an Act of Parliament, has the legal responsibility to set out the educational and training requirements for anyone wishing to register as an architect in the UK. The current framework is often referred to as a three-part model: part 1, an undergraduate degree; part 2 a master’s qualification; and, part 3 a post-master’s diploma. Alongside these educational requirements, all trainee architects must complete two years of practical work experience.
UK architectural education is hugely respected, not just in the UK but globally, and attracts students from all over the world. Research commissioned by ARB and feedback we’ve gathered from thousands of architects and students and the higher education providers themselves is that our current framework is inflexible, prevents institutions from innovating, actively hinders multi-professional education and training and has created significant barriers to some people becoming architects at all. We’ve heard, for example, that the cost of education and the requirements for work experience create barriers for people from less affluent backgrounds or without existing networks in the profession. Although there are signs of progress, the profession remains male-dominated and disproportionately white, and there is evidence that in some institutions, the commitment to excellence has resulted in poor cultures and bullying.
Regulation in action
So what can we do as the regulator? There are three core strands to our proposals which we’re currently consulting on. These are: setting out the new competencies all future architects much achieve as a requirement for registration; publication of new standards for learning providers which are a requirement for accreditation; and finally a new framework for qualifications, which will replace the three part approach described above, complete with a new accreditation and quality assurance model.
Architects play a crucial role in creating a built environment that is safe, sustainable and where everyone in society can live well. The new competencies proposed will strengthen key elements of education and training, notably requirements around sustainability and understanding of climate change. We’re also updating competencies around fire and life safety design, particularly important as we learn lessons from Grenfell; as well as ethical behaviour, and multi-professional and team working.
Providers, including higher education institutions, will be required to meet new standards as a requirement for accreditation. These standards cover many of the things you’d expect, such as educational content, teaching and learning resources and assessments. But they also strengthen requirements around governance and leadership and student support.
Level 7 and up
The third component of our proposed reforms centres around a new accreditation and quality assurance methodology. We are proposing ending the current three part approach and instead will only accredit at Level 7 (master’s) as well as the professional practice qualification which follows. What does this mean for students and providers? Firstly, by removing the registration requirement for an ARB-accredited undergraduate degree it will mean providers can accept students onto a Level 7 master’s course with a related degree, or practical experience if they are confident the applicant will be able to achieve the required competencies at the end of the course.
We hope that this will increase the diversity of students onto courses and enable institutions to innovate, working with other disciplines such as engineering, design or perhaps geography. The quality assurance process will be risk-based so that we keep the burden on universities to a minimum. We want to avoid the duplication of data collection with other regulatory bodies; and while we will visit schools of architecture, site visits will be targeted and proportionate to the risk, often using video conferencing technology.
By shifting our focus to competencies in the form of outcomes that must be achieved through academic study and practice experience, we are also proposing to remove the two-year work experience requirement. If students can demonstrate competency in a shorter time frame and gain the relevant qualification, then they can apply for registration.
While it’s true that these reforms won’t solve all the challenges, particularly around university and student funding, we do think they are a bold step forward. If our consultation receives a positive response we will begin transition to the new system in the autumn and course providers will need to be teaching the new standards by September 2027.