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An outline of key discussion points at RIBA Education Interface2: Culture, diversity and inclusion

An overview of Interface2: the Education & Practice Away Day - Culture, Diversity and Inclusion, held on 31 January 2024, with an outline of key discussion points and actions to take forward.

18 April 2024

Following the success of 2023’s Practice Away Day, the RIBA Education, Practice and Diversity & Inclusion teams gathered on 31 January 2024 voices from across the sector to discuss the area of culture, diversity and inclusion within architectural education and its interface with practice.

People from across the industry attended, including students, academics, practitioners, policy makers and those from associated professions, along with RIBA Council, Board Education and Learning Committee and staff members.

The day comprised three distinct sessions, the first and last of which comprised of a series of short presentations followed by roundtable discussions, concluding in feedback and debate, while the second session gave opportunity for those present to ask and discuss difficult real-life situations around tables, followed by feedback and reflection across the room.

Image courtesy: Jackie King

Session one: Curriculum and content/competence - 'What'

The first session questioned “What are we teaching students (and what are we not), why is it important, and what will the impact be on practice?” and continued by asking “How can we better prepare students to function as emerging professionals in diverse communities?” The session heard from those working to develop a more inclusive curriculum, to facilitate a better understanding of equity and diversity within the built environment.

Where are the women in the architectural curriculum? - Sumita Singha, RIBA Board Trustee for Education

Recognising that only 31% of architects in the UK are women, Sumita opened the session by asking "why?". Reflecting on extensive research undertaken in 2002, which identified lack of progression, caring duties, the gender pay gap, and lack of suitable work as key factors, they question if anything has changed 20 years on.

They also discussed gender equity and design from a feminist perspective and threw challenge to RIBA about the low number of books to include female architects in its very own library. Sumita concluded with three key points of focus for RIBA and the collected audience going forward:

  1. the need for appropriate and detailed data
  2. the importance of mentoring and support, especially for Part 3 students and particularly by women
  3. the need for academic materials (books, courses, research) about women architects – international, inclusive, and intersectional.

Practising ethically - Alisdair Ben Dixon and Carys Rowland, authors of 'RIBA Ethical Practice Guide'

Alisdair and Carys discussed key aspects of ethical practice and the importance of its place in the academic curriculum. Covering areas from sustainability and cultural sensitivity to affordability and social equity, not only in the curriculum but also in the access to education itself, they then discussed how the broader impact of architectural decisions impacted on individuals, communities, the environment, and society as a whole.

Mainstreaming inclusive design within architectural education- Jane Simpson, Jane Simpson Access

Having not only worked in inclusive access throughout their career, but championed and challenged it, Jane spoke of the critical importance of inclusive design in the built environment. They spoke of the importance of designers seeing beyond code and legislation to recognise the individuals and groups who seek to inhabit and use the spaces that they design. Jane discussed the vision of the BEPE project which aims to see every newly qualified built environment professional having the attitude and knowledge to integrate the principles of inclusive design into all projects and skills that make inclusive design second nature.

Diversifying our Collective Curriculum in Higher Education and Beyond – Sara Shafiei

Sara introduced a piece of work that they have been developing at the Bartlett by which to grow and diversify the curriculum collectively, with students and staff, all having equal opportunity to contribute to the evolving and growing shared curriculum. #

In particular, Sara spoke of ways in which the school has been exploring ways to build a curriculum that amplifies underrepresented voices, narratives, and agendas. The work - developed across the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment which incorporates 13 different schools of expertise - resulted in a growing digital platform which incorporates both a library of reference and a laboratory of research and experimentation. Both can be added to by staff and students, with a regular call for submissions and a peer review process which was designed collaboratively by staff and students.

Session two: Pedagogy and culture/integrity - 'How'

Having discussed some key areas of the curriculum and practice, the central section of the day focused on how we teach, mentor, support and challenge in the context of education and practice.

It is sometimes the questions and areas that go unsaid, for fear of saying the wrong thing, where we require the greatest learning. The session began with roundtable discussions focused on scenarios (listed below) devised from questions and real-life experiences which were submitted by the audience in advance, covering topics which don’t have straightforward answers.

The session's aim was to co-create a series of core questions enabling RIBA, schools, practices, and other key players to better direct the work necessary to make meaningful progress in building a more inclusive profession.

SCENARIO A: Encouraging mature students in architecture education

  • Specific issues: Financial barriers and reduced educational experience.
  • Benefits: Diverse perspectives.
  • Solution: Address financial barriers, recognise the value of diverse experiences.

SCENARIO B: Supporting re-entry into the profession

  • Specific issues: Salary, childcare, and the perception of architecture.
  • Benefits: Retaining skilled professionals, fostering diversity.
  • Solution: Flexible working conditions, female mentorship, learning from other professions.

SCENARIO C: Supporting students with disabilities in architecture education

  • Specific issues: Accessibility challenges, lack of representation.
  • Benefits: Inclusive profession, diverse perspectives.
  • Solution: Visible leadership, accessible accommodations, psychological safety.

SCENARIO D: Welcoming transgender and non-binary students in architecture

  • Specific issues: Lack of visibility, privacy concerns.
  • Benefits: Inclusivity, diverse perspectives.
  • Solution: Mandatory training, authentic allyship, recognising individual experiences.

SCENARIO E: Closing the ethnicity degree awarding gap

  • Specific issues: Lack of understanding, speculation.
  • Benefits: Equal opportunities for all.
  • Solution: Strengthening the code, consistent policies, open dialogue.

SCENARIO F: Gender-related challenges in the profession

  • Specific issues: Inclusive practices, addressing inappropriate behavior.
  • Benefits: Increased visibility for women, supportive environments.
  • Solution: Awareness at school level, clear policies, flexibility.

SCENARIO G: Ensuring LGBTQ+ inclusion in education and work

  • Specific issues: Lack of visibility, moral judgments.
  • Benefits: Safe environments, diverse perspectives.
  • Solution: Mandatory training, creating psychological safety, recognising resistance.

SCENARIO H: Challenges of field trips and curriculum accessibility

  • Specific issues: Social and cultural capital, unequal opportunities.
  • Benefits: Equality of opportunity for all.
  • Solution: Grouping trips, inclusive curriculum, addressing family perceptions, ensuring visa can be accessed by all participants, sponsorship.

SCENARIO J: Preventing issues related to Level 7 apprenticeship schemes

  • Specific issues: Salary reduction for off-the-job training.
  • Benefits: Fair treatment of apprentices.
  • Solution: Strengthening the code, feedback forums, better framing of benefits.

SCENARIO K: Addressing unpaid overtime in architecture

  • Specific issues: Lack of clarity, stigma, work/life balance.
  • Benefits: Ethical practices, improved work/life balance.
  • Solution: Balancing expectations, teaching time management, repositioning the profession.

SCENARIO N: Improving the transition between Part 2 and Part 3 in architecture education

  • Specific issues: Marginalisation of students.
  • Benefits: Equal opportunities during the transition.
  • Solution: Addressing specific challenges, fostering inclusivity.

Image courtesy: Jackie King

Session three: Accessibility/relationships - 'Who'

The final session recognised that widening access can be overused as a term, identifying worthy ambition rather than reality and questioned “What can be done to ensure that the opportunity to study and practice architecture is not only open to, but supports the ongoing inclusion of, those who wish to pursue it, no matter their background, and how might this happen at various stages in the process.” This session heard from those actively involved in work to make architecture schools and practices inclusive and diverse places to study and work.

The day concluded with reflections on how matters raised within the day could be taken forward.

Educating from and for the local region - Ryan Stuckey

Ryan presented, as a case study, the architecture programme at the Swansea School of Architecture at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. Recognising the falling number of architects in Wales and the skills drain in students pursuing the subject in England and then remaining to practice, Ryan explained how the programme at UWTSD has been developed to educate in the region, for the region.

As a small programme, Ryan identified the impact that the imminent ARB fees for accreditation are likely to cause. They described and celebrated the significant development of students from intake to graduation and encouraged the community present to support regional education.

The student’s perspective - Kudzai Matsvai , EDI Consultant

As a student at the Liverpool of Architecture, Kudzai described their experience as a black queer woman and how that experience has led her to a career path which focuses on EDI; advocating for marginalised groups, and supporting academia and practice. Identifying that BAME students are much less likely to progress from Part 1 to Part 2, to Part 3 and beyond into practice, and of all BAME groups this is particularly evident in black students, they challenged the community that much more must be done to change this. In particular, the diversification of the curriculum and the development of better representation from all BAME taking an intersectional approach.

Making practice accessible: championing students - Wilfred Achille and the Westminster Champions, Westminster University

Wilfred, Co-Director of the Part 3 programme at Westminster introduced the Champions programme and was joined by four of the champions who support the students at Westminster.

Designed as a support network to offer mentoring to students, primarily those working in practice, the champions are a group of early career professionals who have completed the Part 3 at Westminster. They engage with students in different ways from one-to-one support on PEDRs and case studies, offering job hunting advice to lectures to student cohorts. Using Padlet, they can communicate with the whole cohort of students, sharing knowledge, sources and experiences. They are providing greater access to the profession for the diverse student population through networking opportunities.

Apprenticeships: for institutions, for practice and for students - Helen Taylor

As a member of the original apprenticeship trailblazer group, Helen described the development and growth of architectural L6 and L7 apprenticeships. Identifying the difficulties arising from the process, Helen explained the pressures on students, practice and academia and that a review of the standard is imminent. With oversight from ARB, RIBA, IFATE, and OFSTED, the administration of apprenticeships places significant pressure on schools of architecture.

With student fees paid by the apprenticeship levy, the route is an opportunity to widen access to the profession, but work needs to be undertaken now, to ensure that the route is successful and grows into the opportunity it has the potential to be.

Removing barriers for the next generation: Sarah Phillips

Sarah introduced how Open City are engaging with primary and secondary students to offer opportunities to widen access to creative spatial practice. Identifying that opportunities for creative learning are disappearing from both primary and secondary schools with pressure on schools to reduce these further due to league table pressures (since creative subjects aren’t included in the EBacc league tables), Sarah highlighted that an emphasis on exam scores is making experiential learning very difficult.

The Open City Accelerate programme currently offers 100 young Londoners a nine-month programme of training and mentoring, aiming to providing equitable access to those from under-represented backgrounds and diversify employment in the built environment sector.

Image courtesy: Jackie King

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