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Alex Wright discusses the QAA mission to uphold standards in architectural education

Words:
Eleanor Young

With other reviews of architectural education on hold, the Quality Assurance Agency has taken the lead in updating regulation. As it goes out to consultation, Alex Wright, chair for the QAA’s Architecture Subject Benchmark Statement and head of architecture at the University of Bath, explains

Credit: Nicolas Delves-Broughton

What is a subject benchmark statement anyway?

It describes how subjects are taught and the competencies graduates are required to have. It comes from the Quality Assurance Agency which regulates higher education institutions. So the statement covers the academic discipline of architecture including those courses without RIBA validation or ARB prescription.

It has been nine years since the last one. What has changed?

Student debt is now very high. Both the pressures on institutions and the opportunities available to them have changed enormously in the last nine years. Student apprenticeships are just one aspect of that. 

How have you responded? 

We have looked at the framework for courses to make them more flexible and to allow innovation and foster best practice. This might, for example, be around climate change or different modes of study. At the heart of the benchmark statement are the criteria within the EU Professional Qualifications Directive (PQD) which both the ARB and RIBA share, as do the UIA and many other institutions. Even post Brexit these are likely to remain important for international mutual recognition (the PQD also governs roles on nurses and doctors).

Does flexibility mean less control of quality?

If, in a changing landscape, you don’t allow for change you end up with the status quo and lost opportunities. It’s about setting expectations and promoting best practice.

Can you ensure courses will have the right resources – studios, IT etc?

We have signposted the resources that we think are needed to support architectural pedagogy and studio-based learning – and what is necessary in order to be successful. It is important as universities, like any other sector, are under pressure on productivity.

How does it address the climate emergency and safety?

It has additional emphasis on environmental design and various other issues. If there are major developments in these areas, say around the recommendations of the Hackitt Review, it can be revisited.

Do both architects and educators comment on the consultation?
Yes, it is about the future education of the profession and consultation is open to all. 


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