Friday, June 12, 2009

Architecture is the most exclusive profession

It costs more to qualify than in any other sector (and the salary is rubbish)

Architecture is the most socially exclusive profession in the UK, ahead of law, medicine and accountancy, according to research by the Cabinet Office.

Amid the worst recession in decades, documents released by the Cabinet Office’s panel for Fair Access to the Professions show it costs more to qualify as an architect — over £60,000 — than any other profession. The panel also found newly qualified architects earned just over £20,000 a year, one of the lowest starting salaries in the professions.

The panel, which was set up by MP and former health minister Alan Milburn in January and has heard evidence from 120 professional bodies across 40 sectors, including the RIBA and Arb, is examining barriers to recruitment in key professions, and is due to report its final conclusions later this summer.

The report said: “High cost of qualifications combined with low starting salaries may deter those from non-professional backgrounds from attempting to enter certain professions. Those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to pursue careers with fewer financial risks.”

RIBA president Sunand Prasad, who is a member of the panel, said the root of the problem was the decrease in architects’ earnings in recent years.

“Student debt is a huge barrier, and getting worse,” he said. “This is about social class, not gender or ethnic minority.”

Prasad added that more needed to be done to improve access for older students.

“Architecture is ripe for this,” he said. “The barrier is the lower status of part-time courses — there’s a certain snobbery, and the EU directive puts a lot of emphasis on full-time study.”

In its evidence, the RIBA said that as well as financial issues, students from ethnically diverse backgrounds, or from non-professional families, “may have greater difficulties adapting to the challenges of study because there is less implicit knowledge of what may be involved, and how sustained the commitment to courses such as architecture has to be”.

Arb’s submission said difficulty in getting practical experience in the current economic climate was also a barrier, as was the inflexibility of the system because of European law relating to mutual recognition of qualifications.

It said: “These requirements could be seen to hinder the development of part-time and/or mixed mode qualifications.”

The report commended Pathways into the Professions, a scheme run by Edinburgh University to encourage children from local state schools into law, medicine, veterinary science and architecture.