Live and learn

Craig White’s DIARY

Early next year, our practice will be 15 years old and we are planning how to celebrate in our teenage years. However, I’m already celebrating another important 15th, as a lecturer at the University of the West of England’s school of architecture. In fact, it was as a result of getting a half time teaching appointment that we were able to afford to set up White Design in the first place. 

It was a very exciting time to be in education. UWE had just set up the first new school of architecture in the UK for 20 years. When I joined the team, the school was just a year old, with 20 fresh faced first years, and an even smaller number of second year students, whom it was my job to teach. It’s probably fair to say that second year and I both learnt on the job. The school was not only new, but ambitious as well. It set out to rethink how architecture and planning could be taught together, to close the gap between the two professions. Today, of course, we have over 300 students and have successfully navigated all the demands that the RIBA and RTPI put our way, and interdisciplinary teaching is seen as the way forward. 

All good, you’d think. But change is constant and we now have tuition fees to deal with. It can take an age – between 7 and 9 years – to get fully qualified. With tuition fees set at £9,000 per year, students face the prospect of graduating with debts of over £50,000 – and that excludes living costs. At that price, I don’t think I would even contemplate studying architecture today. And even if I did, I suspect I wouldn’t be offered a place. Not only has the cost of studying gone up, but so have the entry requirements. My trio of A levels wouldn’t get me a place at the school in which I teach.

So why does it take longer to train an architect than a surgeon? If we are not to shorten the length of time people study, we have to re-think the routes they can take to qualification. Will the education of an architect, be more like an apprenticeship, with students studying and working at the same time? Many already do this unofficially and hold down part time jobs while they study. So 15 years in, I’m working with colleagues on two important pieces of work. Re-thinking how to educate the architects of the future, and how to celebrate White Design’s 15th. I think I know which will be easier.    

Craig White is a founder director of White Design