24 AUGUST 1985, Page 5


WHO can deny, looking around Britain, that we have far too many architects in this country (the RIBA alone has 23,000 mem- bers) and most of those are badly trained and crudely insensitive, if not worse? This is scarcely surprising, as most architectural schools are mediocre institutions which seem to teach little that is practical or truly worthwhile. The news that the National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education and the University Grants Com- mittee intend to reduce the intake of architectural students by closing certain schools therefore seems sensible. The question is: which ones? It seems only just that the North-East London Polytechnic school should go if only for its presumption in calling itself the William Morris School, and so insulting the memory of that great hater of architects. What, so far, is disturb- ing is the absence of any reference to the future role of Britain's oldest and only independent architectural school, the Architectural Association. Now, although the AA is the fount of much pseudery and pretention incomprehensible to the lay- man, it is also a school of international renown which is more vigorous, imagina- tive and enterprising than most other such institutions. It is also cost-effective. On the basis of figures released by the Department of Education and Science, it seems that in 1978-79 the gross cost of educating an architectural student in the public sector, excluding the capital cost of buildings, equipment, etc, was £3,145, while the comparable AA fee, which had to cover capital costs, was £1,575. There is every reason to suppose that the differential in cost is the same today. At present the AA is obliged to rely almost entirely upon full fee-paying foreign students, as few British students can afford to attend since they receive only partial state aid. If this gov- ernment really means what it says about supporting the private sector in education, then it ought to encourage such indepen- dent schools. Let the Prime Minister be as true to her instincts here as she was in the choice of her own house. It would benefit both British architecture and the taxpayer if more British students were able to attend the AA. The Architectural Association deserves greater recognition by the govern- ment.