Whistleblowers: Architecture students threaten lawsuit

July 25, 2003

De Montfort University could face mass legal action from as many as 240 architecture students after it lost professional accreditation for a number of its architecture courses as a result of low standards.

The Architecture Registration Board withdrew accreditation from De Montfort's three-year BA in architecture, its part-time BA and its full-time graduate diploma in February after a review found that standards were "unacceptable" and that students were gaining degrees despite failing essential parts of the courses.

The withdrawal of accreditation has hit 80 graduates this year - 55 on the BA course and 25 on the diploma. A number to whom The THES spoke had already met lawyers and were preparing a group legal case. As it could take three years for De Montfort to regain accreditation, three cohorts of students on the three courses - a total of about 240 - are likely to be affected.

The ARB confirmed in a public statement on February that it had retrospectively withdrawn accreditation as of August 2002, when an ARB review found that De Montfort had failed to act on "advice on standards" in reports from earlier visiting boards and external examiners' reports. De Montfort initially contested the findings, which stated: "The examination standards of the university for these courses have not been acceptable to ARB, despite steps taken by the university very recently."

It added: "ARB could not be satisfied that students will attain competence in the criteria set by ARB."

The board was specifically concerned that the aggregated marking system on the degree course allowed students who failed key modules in design to obtain a degree and receive their part one professional architecture award.

This concern was echoed by an external examiner. It was discovered that in 2001-02, nine students had graduated with U grades in some modules.

The ARB said: "Students at the lowest pass at third year are very poor and attention needs to be paid to how to raise the standard of work produced or lower the marks."

Despite the fact that the ARB decided to withdraw accreditation in August 2002 - when students could have made arrangements to transfer courses before the start of term - it made public its decision in February, and final-year students were officially informed of the withdrawal only on March 11.

The dean told them: "You will not automatically be eligible to pursue the path towards registration should you successfully complete your programme."

After they passed their finals, they would still need to pass a specially arranged assessment by the ARB to gain professional status. The price of the assessment, £375, and additional accommodation costs would be met by the university.

In April, the students were told that the university would not pay the cost of reassessment if students failed the ARB tests, and it would not pay for students to sit the ARB tests at any alternative venue or time other than that arranged. A formal complaints committee ruled: "The committee does not feel that a blanket award of compensation is appropriate."

It concluded that the committee was the "final stage of the university's internal procedureI you have therefore exhausted all the university's internal procedures in relation to this complaint".

Last week, this year's degree and diploma graduates received the results of their ARB assessments. It is understood that of 13 students from the diploma course who sat the exam, only seven passed. Of 26 degree students, just 14 passed the ARB assessment.

A De Montfort spokesperson said: "We are aware that a number of our architecture students are unhappy following the withdrawal of ARB prescription for some De Montfort architecture courses. We have tried as far as is reasonably possible to support all those affected by ARB's decision. Some of the students have exercised their rights under the university's complaints procedure. We are not, however, aware of any legal action at this time.

"We remain disappointed at the loss of ARB prescription, particularly in the light of our successfully retaining Riba (Royal Institute of British Architects) validation for both part one and two courses in the last couple of months."

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