RIBA Office-based Examination

About the examination

RIBA & Oxford Brookes University partnership

The RIBA Examination in Architecture for office-based Candidates (commonly known as the 'office-based exam') has been delivered by Oxford Brookes University, under a franchise arrangement, since 2002.  The examination is wholly owned and validated by the RIBA, and the qualifications offered are also prescribed by the Architects Registration Board (ARB). Successful candidates are awarded the RIBA Part One Certificate in Architecture or the RIBA Part Two Diploma in Architecture (there is no additional academic award attached to the examination).


2013 graduates

 Staff and 2013 graduates with guest speaker Alan Stanton from Stanton Williams



The role of the RIBA in architectural education is embedded in the Institute's Royal Charter of 1837, and in 1863 the RIBA established the Examination in Architecture, which became compulsory for admission as a member of the Institute in 1882.

At the beginning of the 20th century the RIBA established an alternative route to membership when it embarked upon the recognition of courses and examinations delivered in universities; this has developed into the system of course validation we are familiar with today.

However, many candidates continued to sit the examinations as external candidates of the RIBA, and such was the resilience of the system that during the second world war RIBA examinations were offered to British & Commonwealth POWs in camps in Germany and Poland, with scripts posted across battle lines by the Red Cross. 

The genesis of the current office-based examination lies in the 1980s where the programme was developed to meet the learning and development needs of distinctive, full-time employed, office-based candidates who were using RIBA Examinations as their route to qualification. 

In 2002, the RIBA appointed Oxford Brookes University to act as the RIBA's franchise partner for the delivery of the Examination. Since then, around 190 people have graduated with their Part 1, Part 2 or indeed, both qualifications, taking with them a valuable set of skills and new ideas to build their career in practice.


The unique aspect of the examination is that it is not a taught course, and candidates – rather than students – do not regularly attend classes at university. Candidates complete assignments to fulfil the requirements of a structured set of modules, which are mapped against RIBA validation criteria, as on any taught course. However, candidates appoint their own tutors to assist them with the academic requirements of the programme. There are varied assignments including portfolio assessments (both personal and practice work), written examinations and project reports and dissertations.  

Attendance is required at Oxford Brookes, to a maximum of eight days per year, depending on the stage the candidate is at. This is for portfolio workshops and reviews, written examinations, and final design presentations.

Entry & experience requirements 

For the duration of the programme, candidates must be employed full-time in the field of architecture, under the supervision of an experienced architect who is registered according to local legislation in:

  • the EU state where the candidate's place of work is based OR
  • a country in the European Economic Area where the candidate's place of work is based or
  • the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man if the candidate's place of work is based in either of these locations.

The architect should have responsibility for the regular supervision and professional development of the candidate. Examples of workplace types include architects' practices, an architect's section of a multi-disciplinary practice, and local authorities.

Candidates must also demonstrate their suitability for independent study. Applicants must be prepared for a high degree of commitment required to carry out work for the Examination in their own time, often during evenings and weekends and after long hours in their practice role.

Applicants must also have a minimum of three years experience in architectural practice to join the examination at Part 1; or 3 years post-Part 1 experience to join the Part 2 stage (as well as holding Part 1).

Is this the route for me? 

There are several important issues to consider when considering the office-based route. Do you have a supportive employer who will facilitate you attending as required at Oxford, and who will encourage your personal development through the programme requirements?  Do your family commitments allow you to devote sufficient time to completing work out of office hours?

Having said this, the programme is set up to be flexible, and candidates can choose from different submission dates in many cases, as well as withdraw from or suspend their studies, within certain parameters, if this becomes necessary at any time. 



Ronnie MacLellan, Programme Director for the RIBA Office-based Examination, Oxford Brookes University

'This programme offers an alternative route to graduation in architecture at Part 1 and 2 which is unique.  Its advantage lies in flexibility to pursue a personal interest in architecture by developing design briefs, a personal choice of tutors, selecting local sites, participation in architectural practice, timescale elasticity, and practice informed research.  By enabling exploration of subjects which are of personal interest and by connecting academia to practice (hypothesis to reality), the programme creates a rich educational experience. Individuals with a passion for architecture, who prefer to remain in practice rather than enrol as full or part time students, can follow the programme from a distance anywhere within the EU. As a School of Architecture within Oxford Brookes University we are able to ensure that this programme of examination is benchmarked against our own validated taught programmes at Part 1 (BA) and Part 2 (MArchD). Throughout the curriculum, candidates will be in full time salaried architectural practice, the individual’s learning being as much to their employers’ benefit as it is to their own personal development as scholars in architecture.'


David Gloster, Director of Education, RIBA

'The RIBA Examination in Architecture for Office-based Candidates inventively builds on the traditions of the Institute's original 1863 Examination, providing an RIBA award for candidates at Parts 1 and 2 via a collaborative partnership with Oxford Brookes University.

The OBE is a creative alternative to conventional higher education, providing an inclusive educational model for those in practice seeking RIBA qualifications.  

The RIBA has worked in partnership with Oxford Brookes University since 2002, and the relationship between the two organisations continues to flourish.  

An annual candidate prize is sponsored by the RIBA and is awarded at the graduation ceremony, held each year at 66 Portland Place, where successful graduates receive their certificates and diplomas from a high profile guest speaker.

Graduates who have produced exceptional work are entered into the prestigious RIBA President's Medals student awards, and many have gone on to become key members of the architectural profession.'


Ronnie MacLellan photo web










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