Levelling the playing field – fairer process required to attract quality architects from all over the world.
Muhammad Khan, SGP’s London Studio Director, voices his thoughts on creating a level playing field for all non-UK architects wanting to work in the country.
When I was asked to be part of the London session of the RIBA / MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government) roundtable on the amendments to the Architects Act, I was excited to be part of the much-needed revision of the role and responsibilities of architects in the UK. The discussion was animated, thoughtful and wide-ranging, examining the building safety landscape post-Grenfell and the impact of Brexit on architects from outside the country wanting to practice in the UK.
Discussing the latter brought up a particular bugbear of mine, and one that I think is a real threat to the strength and diversity of the architectural profession in the UK – the inequalities faced by architects who have studied outside the UK and European Union.
Currently if you are in the EU, have a Masters’ degree and want to practice as an architect in the UK, you send your qualifications to the ARB and become registered. Beautifully straightforward. If you are outside the EU, anywhere else outside the EU, you are basically treated like a student. Your qualifications could be from the most prestigious architecture schools, you could have helped design some of the most challenging and innovative structures in the world, or have decades of experience in your chosen profession, it does not matter. You will be told you must undertake case studies and work experience, and then a validation exam – a process that is not only lengthy (up to three years) but also extremely expensive.
I believe this situation is hampering UK architecture from attracting the best and brightest in our profession. Anecdotally, I know of several excellent non-EU architects who are currently working as architectural assistants or similar and have completely lost the motivation to jump through such demeaning hoops. We certainly must have robust and thorough processes to make sure anyone practicing as an architect in the UK is completely competent, but I see the new post-Brexit world as the opportunity to level the playing field for all architects.
We need to develop a more individually assessed procedure, comparing in detail non-UK with UK qualifications, and allowing architects to “top up” areas of their qualifications that do not quite meet the benchmark, rather than having to start again at the beginning. The ARB should recognise the parity of overseas programmes and could even pro-actively work with non-UK universities to validate courses and portfolios or arrange one-to-one oral examinations, to ease the movement of talent to the UK.
It is a fine balance between protecting the public from shoddy practices with allowing access for the best talent, but there can be a new procedure that is based on qualifications and experience, not just your location on the planet – if we take the opportunity to push for it.