In India, we have a single organisation that is the sole regulator of all aspects of the profession: the Council of Architecture (CoA) which was brought into being, and given legal standing, by the Architects Act 1972. This means that CoA regulates both the licensing of practicing professionals and regulates architectural education. To practice as an architect, one must have one’s name formally recorded in the register of architects maintained by CoA, without which one is not legally entitled to call oneself an architect. And similarly, to run an institution that awards degrees in architecture, it is necessary that the institution is entered in the register of accredited colleges, for which it must pass inspections that are conducted by CoA. Having a single organisation carrying out both these functions is not a universal practice in all parts of the world. In fact, it is the opposite: many countries deliberately keep them segregated. And there is a reason for this.
Licensing of professionals is meant to protect the public interest by establishing a threshold of competence that must be crossed to claim the title of ‘architect’. This means that the architect should know how to integrate the process of design with basic safety and performance criteria such as the ability to design in conformance with prevailing building codes, efficiently amalgamate the demands of structure, material, and building services, and work as per foundational professional and ethical norms of architectural practice. The intangible and qualitative aspects of design are not part of the regulatory process, and are left to market and cultural processes to resolve. Being based on a qualifying threshold means that licensing of professionals is oriented toward setting minimum standards.
Regulating education, in contrast, is about provoking excellence: the opposite of setting minimum standards. This is done by avoiding a checklist of curriculum that all colleges must conform to. Colleges are granted complete autonomy on curriculum, admissions and assessment so that they have a free reign to pursue excellence. They are then asked to define goals that will define the pursuit of excellence that differentiates them from others, and the parameters that they will use to measure their performance in this pursuit. The primary purpose of the regulator’s inspection is to pose the challenge of a rigorous peer review that critiques how well the college is performing against goals of excellence it has set for itself. To ensure that there is a cross-check of a basic threshold to ensure the process does not go awry, the work of the graduating batch is examined to ensure that it will serve the profession well. Since regulation is primarily aimed at stimulating differentiation rather than enforcing conformance, it avoids a minimum standards approach.
India’s decision to have a single regulator for both licensing and education has meant that education has followed licensing into a ‘minimum standards’ approach. In fact, the reference document that CoA has laid down for evaluating colleges is titled “Minimum Standards of Architectural Education”, which directs the regulatory process towards enforcing conformance with a checklist laid down by the document. It is essential that we segregate the two functions of licensing professionals and regulating education so that their methodologies do not contaminate each other. To segregate them into two legally distinct entities would require modification of the Architects Act: a legislative procedure that will require parliamentary sanction, and will be a long and cumbersome process. For the immediate future, CoA should create two autonomous wings within itself that are kept at arm’s length from each other so that each aligns with the core imperatives they must carry out: licensing must enforce minimum standards and regulation of education must provoke excellence.