There are 464 colleges in India that are accredited to offer professional degrees in architecture (Source: Council of Architecture website as on 22 February 2018). Out of these, two have either had their recognition withdrawn or have their recognition currently in dispute, which leads to a definitive current number of 462 accredited colleges. A handbook of professional documents published by the Council of Architecture in 2005 shows that at that time the total number of colleges in India was 117. This is a growth of 295 per cent in a period of thirteen years: an explosive growth rate by any standards.
The case could be made that this growth rate is justified. India currently faces a huge shortage in housing stock, both in urban and rural areas. To complicate matters, the rural-urban mix in the country is poised to go through a sea change. We are currently just over 30% urban, and historical data from other parts of the world shows that when a region reaches the 30% urban threshold the rate of urbanization begins to rise sharply. Several estimates by both public and private organizations predict that we will be a 50% urban society shortly after the middle of the 21stcentury, which means that over the next thirty-five to forty years, India will have about 400 million new urban citizens. This growth will be driven by a combination of internal growth within cities, rural-urban migration, intra-urban migration, and the transformation of areas currently classified as rural into urban settlements.
India already has a low ratio of architects to the general population; unlike Europe or the United States one rarely encounters an unemployed architect in India. Architectural practice tends to be largely an urban-based activity, and the rural areas have been managing to build without the services of professionally trained architects, so it is apparent that the full utilization of the current stock of professionally trained architects is being absorbed within the urban areas alone. And if the urban areas are to grow as projected, then there is a large need for an additional number of architects in the country; and this is without even addressing the need (which must also be addressed) to bring professional building design inputs into the rural areas.
We must recognise that this challenge has a quantitative as well as a qualitative dimension, and if we seem to be achieving impressive numbers on the quantitative front it is necessary to also evaluate what we are accomplishing in qualitative terms. The speed with which growth will occur in our cities means that the processes of urbanization that took place over 150 years in Europe and the United States will have to be compressed into a time scale that is over three times as fast. This is a tremendous challenge in an era of global warming where we also have to be intensely aware of the environmental impacts of whatever we do. Clearly we cannot develop our cities using the tried and tested methods of the past, for they not only implicate demands on the environment that are no longer sustainable, but will also not happen with the speed we need. We will have to learn to live by Albert Einstein’s dictum that “we cannot solve today’s problems using the mindset that created them”. This poses a formidable demand on the educational system that will produce professionally trained architects, urban designers and urban planners. We need a breed of graduates who will not depend on the formulaic precedents of the past, who can think critically and innovate radically, while sensitively responding to local, global and environmental challenges. This essay will focus solely on architectural education, and only mention that the same discussion needs to take place within education in urban planning and urban design.
There has been no comprehensive and intellectually rigorous study that audits the performance of architectural education as a whole to evaluate whether the system is meeting the qualitative demands that it needs to fulfill. So one only has anecdotal evidence to go by, and unfortunately the anecdotal evidence is cause for serious alarm:
- Most practitioners one encounters routinely complain that the average quality of the young graduates they employ falls far short of what is needed.
- Students often complain that the level of thinking and discussion within their college does not touch on the fundamental issues of architecture, and practitioners who sometimes step into colleges to lecture or to participate in design juries often echo this complaint.
- The organiser of a major annual architectural conference (that draws internationally reputed speakers and attracts both students and professional participants from all over the country) observes that the kind of questions that students pose to the speakers reflect levels of fundamental doubt on basic issues that should be resolvable in college.
- In most parts of the world, the professional work output of faculty is usually representative of the cutting edge of the profession; largely in theoretical or research work, but also in design practice. This is not the case in India, and it is rare to find the output of an Indian teacher in peer-reviewed publications that are considered by international standards to be intellectually rigorous.
- If one looks at the list of winners of design awards as an indicator of the cutting edge in design, it is rare to find people who have a substantive or regular involvement with teaching.
This is not to claim that there is no excellence whatsoever to be found in Indian colleges of architecture. There are some colleges that are doing a creditable job, and even within some of the colleges that are below par there are a few teachers who are doing well. But the test of the overall quality of a system is not to be judged by its best performers, and should really be judged by what the average achieves. And if the anecdotal evidence is to be believed, the average is below par, and we have the possibility of widespread systemic failure. While the challenges we face in the immediate future of Indian urban environment require action on a series of fronts covering broader policy as well as other professions, it is important that we also produce good quality graduates in architecture who are capable of meeting the challenge. A systemic failure in doing this could lead to a level of deterioration in the quality of urban environment that could have huge social, cultural and economic costs that we cannot afford.
One strategy would be to identify centres of excellence where best practices do occur, perhaps supplement this with the actions of key practitioners to introduce further best practices, and then work to disseminate these best practices across the system in order to reform it. While this strategy must definitely be followed, its impact will be slow and across the long term. Given the urgency of the situation we face, it is also necessary to have policy level changes so that the way in which architectural education is managed and regulated is reformed in order to catalyze a systemic shift toward excellence that is widespread across architecture colleges in the country.
Dimensions of Excellence in Architectural Education:
Before we embark on any policy level change, we must be clear about our objective, and establish tangible goals that the policy must achieve. This essay seeks to take a first step in that direction by proposing a set of parameters that can shape the quest for excellence in a system for regulating architectural education:
A. Professional Education Versus Vocational Training
When practicing architects complain about the quality of graduates who emerge from the educational system, a knee jerk response to this criticism is often to examine how to change education in order to make graduates more employable in practice. This shifts education towards vocational training, and creates a focus on developing skills in specific areas of technical performance.
While skills are important, they are also what logicians call “a necessary but not sufficient condition”. It is necessary to go beyond skills, because skills truly acquire depth and resonance when they serve deeper value-based propositions on life. It is necessary to train our students to be able to think critically and rigorously about such propositions on life, to a level where they are not bound solely by the paradigms of the past, and can innovate in order to constructively respond to the new challenges and contexts that life keeps throwing at them.
The claim to serve the profession through a vocational approach does not really carry weight. It is relatively easy for a design practice to cover some gaps in technical skills, for a young graduate is never given sole responsibility but is apprenticed with a senior colleague or employer, and through that exposure gains a sufficient amount of technical knowledge within a few months. In contrast, it is very difficult for a design practice to cover gaps in critical or propositional thinking, for training to cover those gaps cannot be easily fitted into the day-to-day workings of practice.
A practice that survives by absorbing graduates who may have skills but lack the ability to think critically and innovatively is one that only repeats conventions of the past, or one that does not go beyond surface imagery. Soon such a practice resembles other such practices more and more, and once that happens the only way the practice can win commissions is to differentiate itself in price. The resultant culture of undercutting on fees is well established in India, and is a product of the profession failing in its ability to develop, articulate and communicate propositional value. The claim to serve the profession by making education vocational and skill based will actually undermine the profession in the long term. The profession is served only when it builds the capability where each practice can construct its own niche of innovation, and this will happen only when the education system moves beyond threshold levels of skill to truly strive for a level of academic excellence that is represented by critical and artistic rigour.
B. Provoking Excellence Versus Enforcing Minimum Standards
The Architects Act of 1972 set up the Council of Architecture as the single statutory authority for regulating both architectural practice and architectural education. This varies from the practice in many other parts of the world where the authority that regulates architectural education is different from that which regulates architectural practice. This separation is important because the required orientation in regulating education is fundamentally different from that required in regulating practice.
The need to regulate practice in a profession arises when the profession provides a fundamental public service, and it is therefore necessary in the public interest to ensure that incompetent and unqualified practitioners are not allowed to impose themselves on an unsuspecting public. Such regulation occurs in professions such as medicine, law and architecture; and is achieved by creating a system of licensing where only those individuals whose names are entered in a register maintained by the regulator are authorised to practice the profession. There is a process that ensures that only those with the proper professional qualifications are entitled to have their names entered in the official register of professionals. Typically three qualifications are required: (a) a professional degree earned from an accredited institution, (b) a minimum duration of practical experience (typically three years); and (c) passing of a professional licensing examination that tests the professional in aspects of professional practice (such as conforming to building codes, and understanding of construction technique and professional ethics) to ensure a basic threshold of understanding of important professional issues. In India we only insist on the first qualification for the profession of architecture, namely the earning of a professional degree. This is a shortcoming that is also in need of reform, but is beyond the scope of this article where the focus is on education.
From the viewpoint of education, it is necessary to realise that the regulation of practice is about ensuring a minimum threshold of competence, and when the same regulator takes on both practice and education there will be a tendency to take this ‘minimum standards’ approach to education as well. In fact the regulatory reference document on education put out by the Council of Architecture is titled “Minimum Standards of Architectural Education”. A minimum standards approach will encourage the system to settle at the lowest common denominator, which will contradict the central purpose of regulation in education, which is to provoke excellence.
For this reason it is necessary to create a separation of the regulation of education from the regulation of practice. Dividing the two processes into separate organizations would require an amendment of the Architects Act of 1972. While this act is in dire need of amendment, it would involve a long process as it would require building consensus on a range of issues beyond education and would then have to go through the required processes of drafting and approval in Parliament. But in the short run, there is nothing that prevents the Council of Architecture from structuring itself to have two arms, one responsible for practice and the other for education, and each one autonomous from the other so that the appropriate focus is maintained.
We currently have a good system of assembling a panel of peers to conduct the accreditation review of colleges. This is what is done in most parts of the world, and should be continued. However, in the current system when reviewers realise that a college is at best mediocre, there is little that they can do for their enforcement power only lies in enforcing the minimum standards. It is necessary to see how we regulate education in order to encourage the system as a whole to strive towards excellence.
A best practice to achieve this is found in regulatory systems elsewhere in the world, where the regulatory process begins well in advance of the reviewers’ visit to the institution: often a full year in advance. The institution is required to send in documentation that not only demonstrates their passing certain minimum threshold standards, but to also define how it will transcend these minimum standards to aim for academic excellence. The documentation requires that the college define its goals of excellence, its methodology for moving toward the goals, as well as measurable indicators that can demonstrate performance against goals. This documentation has to be approved in advance of the final review visit. At that visit the accreditation of the college is granted only when the review visit shows that the college has performed on two counts: (a) it has provided what is required in minimum standards, and (b) it has made substantive progress towards the goals of excellence it has defined for itself. The minimum standards check focuses primarily on two criteria: (a) the adequacy of the physical facilities, and (b) a review of the work of graduating students (or the senior most batch in the case of newly formed colleges) to see that the work represents what is worthy of the profession. If these criteria are met, the college is given a great deal of freedom in defining curriculum, in order to truly empower it in its quest for excellence.
C. The Role Of Faculty
One mistake that India made just after independence was a failure to emphasise the importance of research in universities. In the pure and applied sciences for example, the primary site of research was established in centres such as CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research), which remained relatively independent of universities. Apart from a few islands of excellence, many universities have sprung up where the faculty is not associated with the cutting edge of research and knowledge production. What is observed in the sciences is the case in other disciplines as well. With a few rare exceptions the average university in India has acquired a vocational orientation where it is seen purely as a place for transferring knowledge and it is rarely thought of as also being a place for making knowledge.
The shortcoming in such a situation is that the delivery of instruction is equated with learning, and it is assumed that learning is an automatic by-product of instruction. But learning is much more than a sum of instruction modules. It requires the ability to internally integrate instruction modules, to explore the spaces between modules, and eventually construct new spaces of knowledge and understanding. Learning is an action that has to be internally motivated within the student, and is therefore an activity that cannot be easily taught, and has to be demonstrated through role models. Our teachers have to be role models, and to achieve this we need to get beyond the fallacy that Indian colleges often get trapped in: a perception that the only people who come to college to learn are students. Our first goal should be to construct the college as a space where the faculty comes to learn, and this demonstrated passion for the subject should subsequently drive student learning.
In colleges of architecture in many parts of the world the knowledge on how to conduct an instructional module within an architecture curriculum is not sufficient to qualify as a teacher of architecture. It is a requirement that the teacher is active beyond the classroom to do cutting edge work in the profession. If the work is in theoretical or historical research, then the work should warrant selection in published books, periodicals or conferences where selection is predicated on challenging and rigorous peer review. If the work is in design practice than it should win competitions or design awards, or warrant publication in professional journals that are known for an editorial standard of only publishing design excellence. It is therefore necessary for every teacher to publicly demonstrate that he/she is still a learner.
This is not the case in India. Faculty selection is predicated on degrees earned, and advancement is also primarily predicated on the years of service put in or the acquisition of additional qualifications. There is little rigorous requirement spelt out on what the faculty should do beyond teaching. And where such requirement is spelt out it is ineffective because it depends on systems that are beyond the control of the regulatory system for architectural education. To cite an example, a few years ago this author was a member of a review panel appointed by Council of Architecture to assess the continued accreditation of a college of architecture. During the review, a senior faculty member at the level of professor was asked what she had produced by way of publication or conference papers in the recent past. She answered that she had presented a paper at a conference. When she was asked for the subject of the paper she answered that it was on “Environment”. When the review panel responded that this was a very general description, she elaborated that it was on “Environment and Architecture”. When pressed for further details on the count that this was still too general a description she confessed that this conference had occurred eight months ago, she had forgotten the contents of the paper, and she would find a copy of it and give it to the panel. This incident demonstrates that the system has reached a scale where it can build its own self-perpetuating self-certifying systems of mediocrity, where conferences can be organised where nobody is interested in what is being said, whatever is said is soon forgotten, and everyone is satisfied because the “official” requirement of demonstrating that a paper was presented at a conference is met.
We need to establish an academic culture of high standards beyond the regular routines of education: one that could manage publications, periodicals and conferences whose filtering mechanisms of peer review would permit only the best levels in artistic and/or intellectual production. We are far from achieving this in India. There is no architectural press that consistently produces a large volume of deep reflective publication; theoretical writing is difficult to come by; the editorial standards of journals are not strong enough to ensure that the quality of published design work remains consistently high; there is no proper culture of architectural criticism given that most journals rely largely on text and visuals provided by the architect being published; and intellectually rigorous conferences are few and far between. To fix this is a long and arduous haul, will take decades and is time we cannot afford to take. We need a shorter-term strategy that will start moving us towards this goal where faculty are pressured toward high quality achievement beyond the classroom, where they can be visibly perceived as learners and knowledge innovators, and thereby act as effective role models for the students. In the short-term this can only be achieved through demands of transparency.
We have a situation where a minimum standards approach coupled with low intellectual demands on faculty allows a culture of mediocrity to emerge. And low levels of transparency shield this culture from critical gaze, so there is little pressure on this culture to reform and it is allowed to take root. Improving transparency will need to supplement efforts to provoke excellence, and we must live by the statement made by Louis Brandeis, former justice of the United States Supreme Court, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
The Internet era is a great enabler of transparency. The regulatory framework should make it mandatory for every college of architecture to publish the following information on its website:
(i) List of all faculty members, both full time and visiting, with the last five years of their work output (beyond teaching).This should include research work, papers presented, books published, and designed projects. If the work has been published elsewhere and is covered by copyright that does not permit disclosure on the website, then the appropriate publication reference should be disclosed. This will reveal whether the faculty members are also learners.
(ii) A representative sample of ten thesis projects produced by students for each of the last five years.This will be a public indicator of the quality of student output, and especially of the graduates.
(iii) A disclosure of the last two accreditation reviews containing the following information:
- The statement by the college on how it meets the minimum standards requirement.
- The statement by the college on how it transcends minimum standards to strive towards goals of academic excellence.
- The comments of the accreditation review panel (with the names of the reviewers also disclosed) on both the minimum standards as well as the goals of excellence, together with any recommendations for changes.
- The response of the college to the accreditation review, and how it intends to accommodate the comments of the review panel.
This will reveal how the college is faring in its peer review in the accreditation process.
The exposure of this information to the public gaze will allow several evaluations of the college to take place. Journals and other publications could use this information to conduct surveys among the architecture community on how these colleges could be ranked. Practitioners could use this information to target certain colleges for their recruitment efforts. Students who wish to study architecture could ask friends or relatives who are architects to review the colleges they are considering for an opinion on their quality. Once word of these evaluations begins to spread, colleges will have to consider the level of reform they should undertake in order to manage the public perception of the college that is taking root.
In order to complete the cycle of transparency, the regulator should publish on its website the list of people they draw from to constitute accreditation review panels, and just as faculty of colleges are required to publish work output, the output of the reviewers should be published on the website of the regulator. This will establish the credibility of the review process.
E. Redefining Curriculum
The word “curriculum” is often associated with syllabus or content, and there is a tendency to believe that if the content of a course is defined, the entire course of study is defined. In its academic stipulations, the current Council of Architecture document on “Minimum Standards of Architectural Education” only lists requirements on content. However content is just one of the pillars of curriculum, and it should be realised that a comprehensive treatment of a course of study would consist of three major components – values, pedagogy and content (or syllabus):
- Values relate to how the college views the goals and ethics of architecture and education; its philosophy on what architecture should set out to achieve; its ethics of how a community of learners is constituted.
- Pedagogy relates to the methods by which the college produces learning; how it sets up the environment conducive to learning; how it assesses learning.A committed pedagogy seeks to shift the paradigm of education away from delivering instruction towards producing learning (and learners).
- Content relates to that core body of knowledge and skills through which the discipline of architecture can be practiced.
It should be recognised that instruction does not automatically result in learning, so the curriculum should also seek to define learning outcomes. These outcomes should be defined at the level of individual courses, for a semester, and for the course as a whole. The definition of these outcomes can be used to analyze the effectiveness of courses, which can be judged by whether these outcomes are reflected in the students’ work.
The regulatory framework should demand that every college define and articulate this holistic definition of curriculum. It should also recognise that if the college is to be empowered to pursue excellence, it should be given great freedom on curriculum.
F. The Question Of Autonomy
As only universities are empowered to grant degrees in India, any new college of architecture is required to affiliate with a university. And often such affiliation results in surrender to centralised bureaucratic control at the university level on three key fronts: curriculum, assessment and admissions. If a college is to be empowered to pursue excellence, it is absolutely necessary for it to have autonomy on these three fronts. This is specifically the case in India where university administrations tend to be highly politicised and bureaucratised.
To examine the various fronts on which the argument for centralised control is often made:
(i) Quality of Standards:
It is argued that colleges are likely to misuse any position of authority granted to them, and only through centralised control can one maintain a certain quality of standards. This is a highly fallacious argument. Firstly, it assumes that the very people on whom one depends on to deliver excellence in the classroom are the ones who cannot be trusted. A system that starts with this level of “guilty until proven innocent” level of mistrust is doomed to failure, for it will create obstacles in any incentive towards excellence and push the system toward mediocrity. It should also be realised that the greater the level of centralization, the greater the likelihood that the system will settle at the lowest common denominator.
(ii) Consistency of Standards:
It is also argued that without centralization each college will start developing its own standards, and as a result evaluation will become very difficult for prospective employers and administrators of higher degree programmes. This argument is also fallacious as colleges do not operate in a vacuum, and have to deal with the question of how their graduates win acceptance outside the walls of the college. This will force them to converge on commonly held standards of excellence. The historical evidence anywhere in the world where colleges are granted curricular autonomy shows that colleges tend to largely converge and overlap on commonly held standards, and do not diverge into separate curricular standards which have little overlap. This is especially the case in a field like architecture where the portfolio of work tends to play a large role, often dominant over any curricular transcripts, in any evaluations after graduation. Granting colleges autonomy and forcing them to earn comparative acceptance in wider professional and academic circles is the best means to achieve both quality and consistency of standards.
(iii) Convenience of Students:
This argument is made in reference to the admissions process, and is a valid argument when the system forces students to run across several locations to seek admission, and creates obstacles to allowing the student to make a proper choice. Firstly, it is not clear whether a centralised process removes all of these obstacles. And it should also be realised that if a college is to be provoked to pursue excellence, it should be given the maximum possible freedom to choose students who are aligned with the college’s specific pursuit of excellence.
The best option is to maximise the level of choice in the hands of both college and students. Choice is placed in the hand of the college by granting them full control over the admissions process (subject, of course, to the limits placed by legislation designed to prevent the continuation of historical social injustices). Choice can be placed in the hand of the student by enforcing the following measures:
Colleges should be prohibited from making mandatory visits to the college for interviews a part of the admission process. Admission should be granted only on the following criteria:
- Academic transcripts at the school level
- A centralised and standardised aptitude test. This already exists in India in the form of the National Aptitude Test in Architecture (NATA), which is administered by the academic arm of the Council of Architecture (National Institute for Advanced Studies in Architecture). If criticisms are made of NATA, the action to be taken should be to improve NATA rather than eliminate or substitute it.
- A statement of purpose on why the student wishes to study architecture. This could be submitted in the form of either text or drawings or a combination of both.
- A minimum of three letters of reference from school teachers, or any person who knows the student and possesses the necessary professional or academic qualifications to comment on the students aptitude and commitment to study architecture.As is the practice in many academic institutions worldwide, these could be submitted online directly by the referrer, or in a sealed envelope so that the reference is not disclosed to the student.
The college could be given the freedom to assign its own weightage to each of the criteria named above.
There should be a mandatory common date on which all colleges are required to publish on their website their first list of admissions. Similarly there should be a mandatory common deadline on which the students are required to confirm their acceptance to a specific college.
On the question of freedom on curriculum and assessment, it should be recognised that architecture colleges are already granted a fair degree of autonomy on the design studio course that forms the core of the curriculum. While there may be some guidelines on the kind of problems that are to be set, each college is given freedom on the specific problem that is set each semester, and also chooses its own panel of internal and external assessors. This is done as it is widely recognised that design is a subject that is ill-suited to assessment through centralised examinations. If this autonomy is granted to the core course of design and not to the other subjects, it creates an obstacle to integration of learning in theory and design, and also impedes innovations in teaching theory subjects. The regulator of architectural education should impress on university regulators that architecture is the kind of subject where the autonomy that is necessary for design studio is necessary for the whole curriculum, and stipulate a removal of this fracture.
We should also recognise that architecture is not a quantitative tangible discipline, and has to cope with a significant intangible dimension. Therefore it is not advisable for assessment to be in percentage marks, and should be as per letter grades. It should be mandatory for the college to disclose guidelines on the criteria on which letter grades are awarded.
G. Student Motivation
In many parts of the world only a percentage of high school graduates enter college. This is because college education tends to be expensive, there are many opportunities besides college that offer vocational training, and it is possible to earn a living wage without a college education. As a result, among the profile of students who enter undergraduate education in architecture, a high percentage of students are making a great deal of effort to study in college and are therefore highly motivated to pursue the subject. This is not necessarily the case in India where in a highly stratified society all high school graduates, with a middle class level of affluence or above, will go on to college as a matter of routine. As a result committed teachers of architecture often complain that with all their best efforts a large percentage of students refuse to engage with much energy in the classroom or studio as they are not truly committed to or passionate about architecture. An additional complication is that many students are not poised to make a total commitment to a profession at the age at which they graduate from high school, find out too late that this course is not meant for them, and because the Indian educational system offers very low levels of flexibility they go through the motions to coast through up to graduation.
One way to get out of this situation would be to follow a course of action that has been tried and tested elsewhere, where the course is split into two stages, with an exit option at the end of the first stage. After three years the student could graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in architecture. This could be allowed as an undergraduate degree, but not as a first professional degree that will enable the student to practice architecture. We can then allow for a master’s level degree that is the first professional degree, and this degree is granted after completing the second stage of a further two years. Admission into the second stage is not an automatic result of completing the first stage, and the student has to maintain a minimum average grade level in order to receive admission into the second stage where he/she is awarded a first professional degree.
Such a system would ensure that only motivated students survive to take on professional training in architecture. It would also introduce flexibility for the student, and a student who finds they are not interested in professional practice of architecture is granted an exit option early enough to either pursue a different field of study, or to pursue careers in related fields that do not require a professional degree such as architectural journalism or architectural history.
H. Composition Of Accreditation Panels
Quality in a professional field is best achieved by peer review, for it is peers who are best poised to appreciate the challenges and intricacies of the profession. Therefore the current practice of having the accreditation review panels made up of peers is a good one and should be continued, while making sure that there is a proper mix of practitioners and academics. However it should be also recognised that architectural peers are not necessarily qualified to review all aspects of the college, and review on administrative matters, financial matters and technical equipment may require reviewers with specific expertise in these matters. In which case, the peer review could focus on the core issues of professional education, and there could be a separate review process that involves other areas of expertise.
I. Ease Of Entry
Forcing colleges to compete in the marketplace for ideas is the only effective long-term strategy to achieve quality in education. Regulation by itself cannot drive quality, for that has to come from the energy within each college. Regulation should only steer the process by giving colleges maximum curricular freedom, by enforcing minimum standards, by insisting that colleges demonstrate how they will pursue excellence, through mandatory requirements on transparency, and through empowering student choice. And it is also necessary to enable the easy entry of new colleges, for stiff barriers to entry will not allow a true marketplace for ideas to take root.
One such barrier, stipulated by the University Grants Commission (UGC), is that any new college in a metropolitan city should own two acres of land, and those outside metropolitan cities should own five acres of land. Wherever excellence in architectural education is found, one comes across two possible models for a college. One retains a more academic orientation, where its faculty members are scholarly researchers in theory and history, and therefore the college works well in relatively isolated locations such as multi-disciplinary university towns. A more prevalent model is one where the college has academic foundations and thrives on mixing this with a close relationship with architectural practice. This practice-linked model requires an intense exposure of students to practice, and often achieves this by having a large number of visiting faculty members drawn from practitioners in the city who are widely recognised as the innovative and creative cutting edge of the profession. The intense relationship between theory and practice drives learning in this model.
It will be difficult in the Indian context to use the academic model as a dominant mode to develop architectural education, for the tradition of scholarly research in architecture is neither deep nor widespread. Until we can build up such a tradition, we will have to primarily depend on the practice-linked model. This model works best when it is located within the heart of a city. Given the cost of land in India, the requirement to own large parcels of it in the heart of the city creates a huge financial barrier to the entry of new colleges.
While it will be necessary to have enforceable minimum standards on facilities, the requirement to own land is not one of them. Perhaps the UGC requirement is designed for other colleges who intend to run multiple sets of courses, and is not a necessary requirement for a college that wishes to teach only within a single discipline. Also, other disciplines do not depend on close relationships with the city in the way that architecture does. Just as an exemption from university conventions has been won on assessment in design studio, the regulator on architectural education should impress on the UGC that architecture is a special case that should not be subjected to this requirement on land. To bolster the case, there are sufficient precedents of architecture colleges that work within the limitations imposed by being within the city, start with minimal rented facilities, and grow over time by assembling additional parcels within the neighbourhood of either rented or owned facilities, and through all this win international recognition as centres of excellence in architectural education: the Architectural Association in London, Cooper Union in New York, and Sci-Arc in Los Angeles, to name just a few examples.
The Road Map
Eventually, for reform to happen, action will have to be taken by the official regulator on architectural education. There is the need for broader reform on a host of fronts, which will require amendment of the Architects Act 1972. But we cannot wait for this long-term agenda to be realised, and a first level of reform needs to be undertaken that is within the boundaries of the 1972 Act, and it is this first level that is the focus of this article. While dialogue on this front with the regulator can begin immediately, history has shown that effective reform takes place only when it is also supplemented and critiqued by popular opinion. For this it is urgently necessary to draw opinion from and build consensus among a wide spectrum of professionals, academics and students. The aim of this exercise should be to arrive at a conclusion on what the parameters of reform should be. The parameters that have been outlined in this essay seek to be as comprehensive as possible within the confines of a single essay; but they represent the judgment of a single person, and reform must be based on a wider dialogue.
So we could define the following stages on the road map to reform:
- Elicit opinion and build consensus on the parameters of reform, drawing from as wide a constituency as possible of practitioners, academics and students. This phase could seek to represent public rather than official opinion and therefore is best led by a journal, and given that Indian Architecture and Builder has taken the initiative to begin the debate with this monthly column on education, it would be extremely helpful if the magazine could steer the debate further to this conclusion.
- Constitute a panel of experts who will build on this popular will to draft out the new standards for regulating architectural education. This phase should be steered by the Council of Architecture, and the President of the Council can chair the panel. However its constitution should not be confined to the Council, and it should have majority representation from a panel of eminent practitioners and teachers of architecture who will be widely recognised as being representative of the profession’s quest for excellence. The constitution as well as the deliberations of this panel should be published on the website of the Council and should not be finalised until it has been subjected to public critique, and the attempt made to accommodate substantive points in the critique received to the utmost extent that is feasible.
- Finally the Council of Architecture should steer the process of drafting the detailed processes by which the new regulations will be implemented. This will involve defining the panel of reviewers who will conduct accreditation reviews, detailed guideline documents for the review, as well as stipulating the time frame within which colleges will be asked to conform to the new regulations.
Even if we push this process on an aggressive fast-track basis, each of these stages will take a minimum of one year, and it will be difficult to complete the entire road map in less than five years. Given the degree of change we have to cope with in the next fifty years, one’s first reaction would tend to be an impatience that questions why we have to wait five years for reform. This only serves to underline the scale and urgency of the challenge we must face. As the popular saying states, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago and the second best time is right now.