Architectural Education and the Profession

17 December 2019

The ACA welcomes the release of Architectural Education and the Profession in Australia and New Zealand, and looks forward to putting the knowledge developed to work and to collaborating on further research. 

The Architectural Education and the Profession report presents the detailed and thorough findings of a substantial research project, which included qualitative and quantitative data. Undertaken by the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA), the project was supported by key industry stakeholders, including the ACA. The report makes a series of key findings on architectural education in Australasia (see below), which provide an important evidence base for educational institutions, professional bodies, and architectural practices.

The ACA is pleased to be part of the group of stakeholders now exploring how to best activate the knowledge in the report. The ACA believes that professional bodies and practices should work together with the universities to support the education of the architects of the future. Each group brings different capacities and knowledge, and all will benefit from more effective and meaningful collaborations.

What can the profession do? 

Help ease transitions from study to work.

  • Student employment. Architectural practice has a long history of employing students part-time, on study breaks, and on year out arrangements. The Architects Award sets out clear minimum wages and conditions. See here for more information on employing students.
  • Approved internships. A number of universities offer internship programs as part of the approved course of study. For these to be effective, they must be supported by practices. In contrast, unpaid internships that are not part of an approved course of study are not lawful under Fair Work, and contribute to exploitative work practices. See here for more information on internships.
  • Support access to on-site experience. Site visits can help provide students with a greater understanding of the practicalities of construction and the diversity of the sector. It is paramount that the profession support processes to enable this, including assisting to meet institutional requirements in terms of risk assessments and occupational health and safety processes.              

Acknowledge the conflicting pressures on universities, increasing reliance on sessional staff and lobby for better resourcing of architecture teaching.

What can universities do?

  • Recognise the attributes valued by the profession, including critical thinking and collaboration skills
  • Improve university work culture around time management, long hours culture and recognition of mental health as an issue
  • Support the desire for graduates to gain more practical knowledge, integrated as part of broader disciplinary knowledge. (Note: this is not a call for “work ready” graduates at the expense of other areas of architectural skill and understanding) 

What’s missing? 

The report identifies a paucity of real, broad-based knowledge of what the profession looks like and what it does.

The ACA is committed to building a firm research base into the nature of the profession and the businesses within it. At the moment, strategy, future planning and advocacy are hamstrung by the lack of knowledge. The ACA – SA research in 2016 into the state of the profession in South Australia provided an important pilot study, while the state-by-state Architects in Australia Census reports provided essentail demographic information. The ACA strongly supports a collaborative approach to nation-wide research to develop a more detailed national knowledge base. 

Architectural Education and the Profession key findings

Download the full report from the AACA website. The report makes the following key findings:

Demographics and participation
  • There has been a substantial increase in student numbers over the last decade, but this has not been matched by a similar increase in academic staff numbers.
  • Numbers of international students have increased substantially in Australia over the last decade (less so in New Zealand).
  • Women are well represented in the student cohort, and have increased their presence as educators, particularly at senior levels.
  • Indigenous students are underrepresented in architecture programs.
Experiences and resources
  • Academics generally have good job satisfaction, but experience competing pressures to meet teaching, administration and research obligations. Many work excess hours to manage the workload.
  • Students are happy with their decision to study architecture, but face pressures related to high living costs, high course costs and available time for a demanding course of study. Many are working part-time while studying full time, and some are travelling substantial distances between home and university.
  • There is a heavy reliance on sessional staff to deliver architectural education. There are challenges in finding enough experienced sessional teachers, and there is a strong feeling that rates of pay often do not reflect the work and time required.
  • Diminishing resources present ongoing challenges in terms of time available, funding, staffing and facilities.
Perspectives on curriculum
  • There is strong alignment between academics and practitioners about the importance of most skills. Critical thinking, problem solving, communication, time management and collaboration are all highly rated by both.
  • An overwhelming majority of practitioner respondents would like increased focus on practical matters – construction, project management and practice management. Most are satisfied with graduate knowledge in design, communication and the history and theory of architecture.
  • There is a shared aspiration across the academy and the profession to provide students with enhanced exposure to the world of practice. However, there is little agreement on how this can be achieved.
  • Technological change, ethics and social responsibility are seen as important drivers of future curriculum development. But 25% of practitioner respondents considered it more important to consolidate the basics rather than move into new areas.
Design studio
  • Design studio continues as a major focus within the curriculum, typically comprising 40% of the overall five-year program. This is matched by the value placed on design by academics, practitioners and students. The commitment to design studio remains strong, but the way in which this is delivered is changing.
  • Time allocated to design studio has reduced and staff–student ratios have increased. This was seen as an issue a decade ago, and has not changed.
  • Most teachers are highly committed – both ongoing and sessional – and many work additional hours to provide studio teaching. Some schools and educators are experimenting with new teaching approaches to maintain quality in the face of reduced contact hours.
  • The way studio spaces are used has changed. The most important aspect is now the provision of dedicated space for permanent use by the architecture program – with space for pin-up, and the capacity to change spatial configuration. The nostalgia expressed by many respondents for individual studio space is not matched by contemporary patterns of use, even in those few institutions that maintain individual spaces.
  • Increasing centralisation of space allocations, timetabling and financial management have had major impacts on teaching within architecture programs and present a particular challenge to the design studio format.
Graduates in practice
  • The key qualities sought when employing graduates are enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, along with the ability to collaborate and work effectively in teams.
  • Many student participants are concerned about the transition from study to work, particularly in Australia. In contrast, most practitioner participants had positive experiences on graduating, and three quarters had found work in an architectural practice within three months of graduating.
  • A high proportion of architecture and built environment masters graduates are fully utilising their skills and education in their job.
Further work
  • More data and research is required. This study revealed the paucity of related data about the profession more broadly and the challenges faced by architects and architectural practices.