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university fees & the profession

Increase in University Fees and the Impact on the Profession

Whilst an enormous amount of the debate over tuition fees has focused on how much students with courses longer than three years, for example doctors, dentists and engineers architects seem to have been omitted form the debate.

MPs voted in December 2010 to raise tuition fees for full-time undergraduates from £3,350 a year to £6,000 in 2012 and up to £9,000 in “exceptional cases”. We now know that almost three-quarters of universities intend to charge the maximum £9000 for at least some of their courses.

The popularity of architecture as a university course has diminished in recent years much because of the downturn in the construction industry. But the blend of artistic input, creativity of thought and intellectual capacity, culminating with a finished product at the end of the process is an attractive mixture for those looking at a vocational career.

Architecture, once thought a profession for the nobility, or at least the middle classes, could again remove itself from the reach of all but those who can afford it. What’s more, the salary of those who do complete the seven year educational marathon is unlikely to get the heart racing and many may find themselves only just creeping above the government’s £21,000 payback threshold, but with little room above that in the early years of their career.

We’re all aware that the age at which young adults are now getting married, buying property and having children has long since jumped into the thirties, but surely this increased financial burden will only linger for longer with the pressure from the increased graduate payback. Most architecture students could feasibly expect to be paying back their fees well into their forties and even beyond.

Perhaps more worrying is the potential reversal of social mobility for those entering the architectural profession. Historically one reason why architecture has often been out of reach is due to the length of the course and therefore dedication to study for seven years*. The onerous financial burden now facing students of architecture seems destined to once again make it the purview of the middle classes.

What Now?

There is no doubt that in today’s downturned economy, the mountain of graduates finishing university with no employment at the end of it is only growing. Conceivably a reduction in the number of students studying architecture is not only inevitable, but in some ways probably necessary, but the increase in fees is not perhaps the most elegant way to go about it. The government could at least be more inventive and look to support architecture practices that would consider helping students with bursaries and in-house training. redboxdesign group has a successful track record in supporting students from secondary school and on to university but they and others cannot be expected to carry such a burgeoning financial burden in an especially downturned economy.

*Architecture students sit a 3 year honours degree, 1 year out, then a 2 year post graduate degree, before starting work as an ‘architectural assistant’ (6 years to become an ‘assistant’) and then finally have to spend a minimum of 12 months to compile professional experience and sit a professional diploma course = 7 years minimum.

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