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Consultation on proposed changes to the Architects Act – Key points from the RIBA’s response and last chance to contribute

RIBA President Alan Jones outlines key points from the RIBA’s response and how you can share your views directly with the government.

21 January 2021

At the September 2019 Council meeting, a vote took place on the preparedness of current architects and future architects to take the high road of greater evidencing of competency and better managing levels of risk. This means accepting greater responsibility and developing increased expertise en route to potentially greater value, higher fees and positive impact, delivering commitments made by the government and aspirations of clients, users, society and the wider world. Everyone, including student, graduate and international representatives voted to take this high road, knowing to do so would have major implications for the education of future architects and the continuing professional development of chartered architects and how they practise.

In the Way Ahead document published in August 2020, RIBA set out the case for reforming the education of future chartered architects, and the professional development of those who have already achieved chartered status. The aim of these changes is to deliver a sharpened focus on the core knowledge, skills and experience required to respond to the immediate and mid-term challenges facing our world, society and industry.

The RIBA asked members to feed back their thoughts and concerns on the Ministry of Housing, Community & Local Government (MHCLG) consultation on the monitoring of competencies of the ARB. We will publish the results of our survey and our consultation response next week. The final deadline for this consultation is 11.45pm Friday 22 January 2021, so there is still an opportunity for members to submit thoughts directly.

This consultation is a defining moment – a real opportunity to reform the ARB and create an organisation that can support architects and provide greater reassurance to the public, by ensuring architects and those entering the profession have the education, knowledge, skills and behaviours to make a significant positive impact on the built environment.

Clearly, the MHCLG and ARB must take the profession with them on this journey. This means ensuring that the competence system is robust, but also that any new monitoring requirements do not unduly increase costs or administrative burdens on architects at this incredibly difficult time, and that the learning and competence monitoring capacity of the professional bodies is integrated into the system. The MHCLG must also explain how the competency of architects, in delivering on government commitments on zero carbon and public safety, will be considered in the round, not in isolation, across education and business. The education of future architects must be funded correctly to land graduates at the right regulatory level. The procurement of publicly funded projects must be reorganised to ensure that the evidenced and enhanced competency of architects can be delivered across the whole project programme – from inception, through design and delivery to occupation and use - and that appropriate fee levels allow salaries to attract and retain the diverse professionals required to deliver to the society it serves.

As the present time, the UK only regulates Architect as a title, and there is a real risk associated with getting the balance wrong. To raise standards of quality, safety and environmental sustainability, and restore public confidence, the government must seriously consider regulation of the function of architects when it comes to overseeing the quality, safety and sustainability of the built environment. As the only regulated profession within the construction sector, architects are best placed to be the consistent leaders in tackling these issues from the start to the use of each project. Architects are the only deep generalists in the industry with the knowledge skills and behaviours necessary to be involved in every stage of a project. The government will only be able to bring this to bear if the role of architects is understood and valued from the planning and building regulation systems to the procurement regime.

It is appropriate that the ARB be given powers to recognise international qualifications and negotiate Mutual Recognition Agreements with countries that have equivalent educational and professional standards, in order to take advantage of the new post-Brexit freedom. This will allow opportunities for UK architects to register in other countries and international architects to register in the UK. We are clear that reciprocity cannot be a route to lowering standards. The RIBA already validates Schools of Architecture around the world – a new system for recognising international qualifications is an opportunity to promote the UK as the gold standard for architects internationally. Mutual recognition arrangements may also be helpful in supporting future Free Trade Agreements but must not compromise our profession in the UK. RIBA-USA, which represents RIBA Members based in the USA, has already undertaken extensive work to map UK and US qualifications and set out a route map to mutual recognition.

RIBA Members can submit their own responses to the MHCLG consultation

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