Architects at loggerheads

November 26, 2004

The Government must resolve a dispute between architecture's two governing bodies that has left academics groaning under red tape, the Royal Institute of British Architects said this week.

Riba wants the Government to change the law to stop the Architects Registration Board accrediting architecture courses.

Riba wants an amendment to the 1997 Architects Act to restrict the ARB to the role the institute says it was always intended to fulfil - ensuring the professional standards of qualified architects and not the training of undergraduate architects.

Both Riba and the ARB accredit university architecture courses.

Universities must submit documentary evidence to the ARB every four years to prove the quality of their courses. They must also have their standards checked by a visit from a Riba board every four years.

Riba believes this is a duplication of effort and a waste of resources that creates confusion in architecture schools and departments.

Leonie Milliner, Riba's education director, said: "The intention was to create a minimalist body with minimal effect on the profession. Now we have a board that's far from minimalist, far from light touch and that sees education as its foremost remit. We are stuck with an Act that is not in our best interest and that has not worked. Riba is talking with the Government about possible changes to the Act."

Under Riba recommendations, the ARB would be stripped of its statutory duty to produce its own education criteria for schools of architecture. Instead, the ARB would rely on the reports of Riba visiting boards as evidence that a school meets standards.

The ARB does not give schools a definitive list of what they should submit but leaves it up to them to decide what documents will satisfy the ARB's criteria.

This system is opaque and difficult to accommodate, Ms Milliner said. It also left schools unsure as to what evidence to submit.

John Raftery, dean of Oxford Brookes University's School of the Built Environment, said: "The joint panels are looking at different things. The schools bend themselves like pretzels to respond.

"We don't need the confusion of roles, but we are keen to maintain professional standards. Our job is made really difficult when we have two important bodies arguing with each other. It would be very useful for both the schools and the profession if the situation could be clarified and we could avoid one body encroaching on the work of the other."

Marcial Echenique, acting head of Cambridge University's School of Architecture, said: "It is overregulation. It's killing having everybody breathing down your neck - Riba, the ARB, the research assessment exercise, the Quality Assurance Agency. It's a huge diversion of resources. You can't imagine the amount of form filling."

The ARB will consider Riba's recommendations on December 9. But Jon Levett, the ARB's head of education, said it was a matter for Riba and the Government to resolve. "The issue is what the Act says rather than the ARB's interpretation of how it's being delivered," he said.

Mr Levett said the Act clearly spelt out the ARB's role in deciding what qualities an architect needs, and that this decision was not one it could delegate.

"If Riba want us out of education, it is going to have to persuade the Government of that," he said.

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