The Future Practice Challenge: Connecting Education, Research, Practice & Professionalism
There’s no question that universities are going through a difficult time at the moment, with reductions in recruitment and long-term under investment in both research and teaching. This means that many are failing to deliver an education that is fit for purpose. This issue is also compounded by a general lack of knowledge among architects that I encounter about what goes on in universities beyond their own education.
This blog ahead of The Future Practice Challenge session at the ecobuild conference will examine how we have arrived at this point and suggest a way forward. My thoughts and insights have been greatly shaped by my experiences in helping Professor Lorraine Farrelly set up the new school of Architecture at the University of Reading, where we have an unprecedented level of engagement with colleagues in practice and the rest of the construction industry.
There are four things that I believe to be core to the separation of industry and academia over the last few years:
- The Research Excellence Framework (introduced 1986). Used as a tool to monitor research and allocate funding, the framework has forced practitioners who teach in universities to stop practicing and start producing ‘research outputs’ – and it is much easier to do a research paper on a subject far from the messy and ‘unrigorous’ reality of industry. It has also made it almost impossible to get a job in education without a PhD meaning that students are taught by staff with scant industry knowledge. Recent moves towards the impact agenda fail to be reflected in the reward and recognition structures of universities.
- Publications for sharing knowledge. Practitioners rarely read the ‘research outputs’ in ‘refereed journals’ because they are difficult to access and are perceived to be a bit boring and sometimes irrelevant. Students are rarely asked to read refereed journals which compounds the problem going forward into industry. At the same time the industry press, subject to its own internal pressures, has little time for research in its attempt to capture readers.
- Institutional Validation Criteria. The development of this is led by educators with little experience of current practice, need radical revision for a changing industry.
- ‘Privatisation’ of UK universities. Universities have become businesses which are expected to generate income through student recruitment and/or research. At the same time there has been a massive expansion in bureaucracy, coupled with vanishing admin teams which means that staff are under extraordinary levels of pressure just to cope. This means that there is little or no time for the outward facing, strategic work necessary to make sure education keeps up with the times.
Some of these things we can fix quite readily, others are subject to the will of politicians, but students are the victims. We have to develop a joined-up effort to develop grow, disseminate and protect the knowledge of built environment professionals. The University of Reading School of Architecture provides one model of how this might be done set out in Why Architects Matter: Evidencing and Communicating the Value of Architects (2018).
The Future Practice Challenge will be debated at 1330 on 06 March 2019 as part of the ecobuild conference at Futurebuild. It will be a critical platform to help industry and academia to start working together to find and champion a better way forward. Register to attend here.