Architecture courses throughout the United Kingdom are failing students in important areas, with courses being too expensive, overly theoretical and not adequately equipping students for practice, a new survey has found.

Unveiling the results of its latest survey of 149 employers and 580 students, RIBA Appointments – the recruitment arm of the Royal Institute of British Architects - says the results highlight a number of areas of concern, including that:

  • More than eight in 10 (81 per cent) employers and seven in 10 (74 per cent) students felt architecture schools put theory above practical ability
  • More than eight in 10 employers (86 per cent) and students (82 per cent) believed students and graduates left colleges without the practical knowledge to build what they design
  • Eight in 10 employers and more than seven in 10 students (73 per cent) believe students and graduates lack the practical skills needed to practice architecture upon graduation
  • More than seven in 10 (74 per cent) employers and eight in 10 (82 per cent) students felt architectural courses were too expensive
  • A majority of employers (57 per cent) and students (56 per cent) felt architectural courses within the UK did not accurately reflect architecture in the modern world.

While stressing that architecture is not just a technical skill, and that there is a place for theory in education in order to help students understand the wider picture, the report highlights a consensus that students should spend more time in practice during training, and argues that more relevant experience is needed during training to help students understand building regulations, design specification and the planning system.

"The Skills Survey highlights some areas for concern, with a widespread feeling that many architectural students and graduates are simply not being provided with the skills they need to work in practice," said Paul Chappell, manager at RIBA Appointments, adding that the RIBA was in the process of undertaking a review of architectural education.

"At the same time it is recognised that architecture is not just a technical skill and students do need to understand the development and meaning of architecture, and its place in culture and values."

Sentiments surrounding the lack of practical focus were echoed by many students surveyed.

“Teach more about the realities of practice, and less blue sky thinking,” one graduate said. “We were often told that you’d never be able to build most of what we design in school, so why encourage it?’’

Outside of core education, meanwhile, RIBA said it was disappointing that only a low percentage of students and employers (five per cent each) rated a basic understanding of business management as one of the top five knowledge subjects for Part 2 graduates – a phenomenon RIBA director of practice Adrian Dobson called concerning in light of a perception of architects being relatively weak in management, marketing and finance experience.

Dobson said while the relatively low perceptions surrounding the importance of management skills most likely reflects a belief that these are issues which can be left to subsequent stages of career development, he believes this is not the case and that these aspects are too important to the development of a successful career in architecture to be deferred to later in the day.

“Architecture cannot be realised in anything but paper form without a pro-active engagement with the messy and complex business aspects of development and construction; in other words, the industrial context of architecture,” he said.

“There can be no self-denial in this regard. At the end of the day, architecture involves the deployment of money and resources, and we are inevitably in the business of architecture.”

  • Though not in the UK, forty years ago I decided not to go down the architecture/university course approach, instead I chose to do a double diploma at a technical college (architectural & interior). I believed then, that practical skills would see me employed instantly; an approach that proved correct. A company of architects employed me on: illustrative, drafting and technical skills; I believed then that I could document any sort of project – I was. I was working seven days a week: employed; on contract and my own business. Forty years later I branched into heritage (masters), planning (grad cert) and urban design (masters) all within my own business. I am a member of many institutes. Coincidentally both my daughters went through architecture and thankfully with my experience were able to ensure the journey into reality was eased. Having witnessed two architecture schools for undergraduates there is insufficient expertise teaching: planning policy, building codes, standards, fire, hydraulics and focused outcomes surrounding those three mentioned. I have no problems with challenging design; it's just the course's lack of 'coal-face' technical knowledge.

  • What will make Architectural students work ready, and is it important? Some Architect's divide students and young architect's into "Designers" and "Technicians": If you are a designer you get to contribute to design aspects of a project, if you are considered a technician you do the hard yards working out how to put the project together and make it work, the buildability issues. Architecture schools should aim at creating all round skilled architects, understanding that it may take a decade or more of practical experience. The practice of Architecture is further complicated by having independent rules and town plans in jurisdictions in the same state in Australia, and a myriad of standards and codes which change faster than tyres on a super Jumbo. How many issues and laws impact on the practice of architecture? Students need to choose what practice they want to work in and what type of buildings they wish to understand thoroughly. Vitruvius said good architecture possessed, "Firmness, Commodity and Delight! Of these "Delight" should be the primary focus for any higher learning architectural education. Without adequate remuneration many students should reconsider their options.