In India, a shake up is currently going on over how education in architecture is to be regulated. Unfortunately the debate focuses more on the question of 'who' will regulate, and is a dispute over claims to positions of authority. This paper is an attempt to shift the gaze from established positions of authority, and focus on the core issues involved: what is important in education, why we should regulate it, and how we should regulate it.
More important, this paper is not put forward as an authoritative word on the subject. It is offered as a raw draft that is released into the public realm so that others may also graft their thoughts onto it.
Key issues now are:
- Technology: how do people participate in the development of this. We need to develop some kind of an idiot proof guide that does not intimidate with any techie phrases or issues - or else people will tune out and say this is something estoric only for geeks.
- Traces: There should be some way of people leaving traces of their participation. As traces accumulate, as numbers mount, it becomes more difficult to ignore. So if we want this to be also heard in the corridors of power we need to give this some thought.
- Publicity: How do we spread awareness that this document exists and people can participate in the making of it. Probably we need to identify at least one person in every major city who will initiate a word-of-mouth campaign to spread awareness in the local colleges and local community of architects.
1. Preamble – the Purpose of this Paper
In India, a shake up is currently going on over how education in architecture is to be regulated. Unfortunately the debate focuses more on the question of ‘who’ will regulate, and is a dispute over claims to positions of authority. This paper is an attempt to shift the gaze from established positions of authority, and focus on the core issues involved – what is important in education, why we should regulate it, and how we should regulate it.
More important, this paper is not put forward as an authoritative word on the subject. It is offered as a raw draft that is released into the public realm so that others may also graft their thoughts onto it.
2. Why Regulate at all?
To begin with we may ask why regulate architectural education at all. If colleges compete for students and faculty, shouldn’t the excellent ones rise to the top, whereas over time the bad colleges will die? We cannot accept this line of thought because of the following issues:
- Image versus substance: In a pure competition model, issues of marketing can rise to the foreground pushing issues of substance to the background. This would violate one of the primary purposes of education – the critical examination of the substance and boundaries of knowledge.
- Exploitation due to the pursuit of power or commerce: We have all witnessed too many colleges that survive with inadequate resources and faculty, and still claim authority to award degrees. Many of these colleges exist because of selfish motives of the promoters – either financial profit generated through capitation and other fees, or the status and power that are attached to running an institution. This situation is allowed to survive in the Indian environment where conventional thinking often sees a professional degree as nothing more than a passport to financial promise.
- Coherence of the discipline: Architecture, as a discipline, is a means of understanding, interrogating and constructing the built environment. It provides these means because it coheres as a discipline. To survive as a discipline it must have a set of shared epistemologies, knowledge, propositions, methodologies and skills. It is not necessary that these be fixed or unquestionable – it is only necessary that they become the locus of a set of shared practices. A regulatory process can ensure that the colleges of architecture in a region come together to examine such shared practices.
- Challenge posed by an external audit: A well-constructed process of external audit is a useful means of stimulating quality and renewal.
3. The Purpose of Colleges of Architecture
Before we look at how regulation should take place, it is necessary to be clear regarding why colleges of architecture exist. Colleges can be said to exist for two primary purposes – vocational and philosophical:
3.1 Vocation -The Training of “Architects”
This represents the conventional wisdom regarding the purpose of architectural colleges – to graduate employable architects. There has been an increasing tendency to stop the search here, and focus education toward the practical training and skills necessary to ensure that students are immediately ‘usable’ by practice. However, even looking at it purely in vocational terms, this is a self-defeating proposition.
An architectural practice can handle with relative ease a period of apprenticeship where fresh graduates can learn pragmatic issues on the job. This is possible since apprentices rarely work solo, and are usually assigned to work along with experienced colleagues. However, the practice is not organised to train apprentices in critical capabilities such as discursive thinking, analysis, and discerning judgment. This means that the practically trained ‘employable’ architectural graduate is useable largely on tasks that do not require much explanation or independent thinking. He/she is therefore usable mainly by the practice that stays strictly within the boundaries of convention. On the other hand, a practice that seeks to push design to the cutting edge will need architects who are trained to think critically and independently.
A largely vocational orientation assumes that architectural practice is driven primarily by established convention. This is to a large extent the situation in India today, and it is therefore unlikely that the profession will exert any demands from education other than vocational skills. However, it is necessary to realize that a convention driven scenario leads to a lack of differentiation between individual practices, and this in turn leads to the market perceiving design as a pure commodity. A pure commodity is evaluated largely in terms of price, and therefore market driven competition begins to drive fees for design downwards. As many current practices will testify, we are seeing sufficient evidence of this happening.
A vocational approach, while justifying itself by claiming the cause of serving the profession, is detrimental in the long run to the interests of the profession. It will assist in the continuing devaluation of design. This approach therefore defeats its own logic, and it is necessary to simultaneously connect to the philosophical purpose for colleges.
3.2 Philosophy: The College as a Site for Learning
Any discipline, in order to ensure its own vitality, must continuously seek renewal. It cannot be content with the current state of the art, and must always be seeking the re-evaluation and reconstruction of its own boundaries. In order to do this the discipline must construct sites for learning. The college, as a site that is relatively isolated from the distorting pressures that come along with the pragmatic exigencies of practice, is best positioned to be a primary site for renewal for the discipline.
Colleges of architecture, in order to qualify as sites of learning would need to meet the following conditions:
- Design as a propositional activity: While architecture, as a discipline, does require a core foundation of skills, those skills acquire value only when they serve a deeper set of propositions related to the human condition. Design must be seen as an activity that needs to rise above mere problem solving, and seeks to engage with such propositions in a critical manner. Design must be seen as a means of thinking, or else architecture must abandon its status as a discipline and become a mere trade.
- Community of learners: A site of learning can only be constituted when all the members of its academic community are learners. In India we often operate under the fallacy that the only people coming to learn are the students. We must first construct colleges where the faculty members are learners, and student learning must follow from that.
- Reification of learning: Learning cannot be left as an abstract goal – it must be made tangible through a process of reification by which drawings, models, documents, digital files and other tangible traces of learning are produced. The learning process must be reflected in such tangible signs, and all members of the learning community must participate in their production.
Once the college is recognised as a specific site of learning, it must also become the unit of regulation. In India we often have situations where several colleges are attached to a single university. In such situations one cannot make the university the unit of regulation, for this would not recognise the individual characteristics of each learning community. While the university may place its own demands on each college within its domain, the regulatory process has to directly engage individual colleges, examining each as an individual site of learning with its own community and attendant practices.
4. What are the Principles on which Regulation Rests?
Turning attention to the regulatory process itself, we enunciate the principles on which the process must rest:
4.1 Challenge over Conformance
Accepting the college as a site for learning carries the concomitant recognition that learning must be a self-driven process rather than a process imposed from outside. A learning process can be justifiably controlled from outside only if the controlling source is unquestionably more enlightened and learned than the institution that is controlled. A great deal of regulation takes place in India under this hypothesis of ‘The Enlightened Regulator’. However the basis on which the regulator can claim to be enlightened is rarely made explicit. Regulation of education therefore becomes more concerned with control and power structures rather than the enhancement of learning.
The question we must pose is “How can regulation take place when all participants in the process are (at best) equally enlightened?” The best solution to this is one where regulation rests on a process rather than a source of authority – a peer review system where challenge takes precedence over conformance.
Once the need for conformance is relegated to the background, the initiative for the first step in the regulatory process will rest with the college that is seeking accreditation. It must produce a document that presents its vision – its case as to how the college constructs a site for learning, and how it strives for excellence. The auditing of the college must be centred on the goals that the college has set for itself.
4.2 Learning over Instruction
The paradigm of higher education has to shift from the college being seen as a site for delivering instruction to the college being seen as a site for producing learning. Currently we tend to focus only on whether instruction takes place or not, and we consequently only look at the structure, quantity and methodology of instruction. This has two shortcomings: firstly we do not assess whether instruction translates into learning, and secondly in such a model we do not place sufficient emphasis on faculty learning.
The process by which learning can be assessed is the traditional process of reification that design has traditionally followed: the construction of portfolios. Portfolios can exist at three levels: student portfolios, faculty portfolios and institutional portfolios.
4.3 Student and Faculty Competencies
Once the emphasis shifts towards the reification of learning, the bottom line of regulatory standards can change. Instead of focusing on the delivery structure, regulation can focus on the results. Regulation will revolve around the minimum competencies that student and faculty portfolios must demonstrate.
The regulatory process will also audit the college in terms of the goals it has set for itself.
4.4 Education over Licensing
The regulatory process that accredits institutions of architectural education should only focus on education and should not concern itself with licensing at all. The purpose of licensing is to set a minimum standard so that the practicing architect does not impose a danger or disadvantage to the public in terms of the tangible and explicit issues of safety standards, building codes and building systems. In other words, the purpose of licensing is to set the bar for the ‘lowest common denominator’. The purpose of regulating education has an opposite focus – rather than a lowest common denominator, in the attempt to stimulate learning, it seeks to set the bar at the highest possible standard of architectural discourse. Licensing and accreditation of education should be two separate processes.
5. The Regularion Process
Once the regulatory authority has designated the members of the inspection team, a three-step process of accreditation is suggested. The entire process would take place over a period of 12 to 15 months.
5.1 Step 1 – The Vision Document
The College seeking accreditation starts the process by producing a document regarding its vision, detailing how it seeks to construct an institution of architectural education. The details of what this document should contain are given in Paragraph 6 below. The document is distributed to the members of the inspection team, who give their comments. A period of four months could be allocated for receiving comments, modifying/developing the Vision Document, and its acceptance by the inspection team.
5.2 Step 2 – Assessment Framework for the Vision Document
Defining goals in the abstract is insufficient – it is also necessary to be able to assess how the college will assess progress towards these goals. Once the Vision Document has been accepted, the college will define how each of the goals identified in the document can be measured. The assessment framework will stipulate the processes and documents that will assist in such assessment. A period of eight months could be allocated for developing the assessment framework, responding/incorporating feedback from the inspection team, and putting together the necessary documentation.
5.3 Step 3 – Audit Visit
Once the Vision Document and its Assessment Framework have been finalised, and the college has had the chance to put together the necessary documentation, an on-site visit by the inspection team will take place. This visit would take about three days. The primary purpose would be to audit the following:
- Is the college functioning as it has intended, as per what it has stipulated in the Vision Document and its Assessment Framework?
- Are the student and faculty competencies demonstrated at the acceptable level?
6. The Vision Document
It will be mandatory that the Vision Document would spell out the college’s position and offerings on the following:
6.1 Programme of Study
What programmes of study are offered by the college, and the qualifications that students earn at the end of the programme. Details required below should be stipulated separately for each programme of study. Resources that are shared by several programmes of study should be accordingly identified.
The debate in India defines this term very loosely, and mistakenly often identifies it with syllabus. Curriculum should encapsulate the philosophy of education that an academic institution adopts, and consists 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. The Vision Document should identify the college’s position for all components of curriculum.
How does the programme of study address the perspectives of the following constituencies who have a stake in architectural education:
- The Academic Community: How does the programme support general goals of education and learning? How does it balance the needs of specialised professional education with the general needs of higher education? How does it seek the balance between core subjects, general subjects and electives?
- Students: How does the programme allow student participation in the development of individual and collective learning agendas? How does it support and encourage students to develop personal goals? What support systems does it offer to students who need help in resolving individual problems? How does the college support an interpersonal milieu that embraces cultural and economic differences?
- The Profession: How does the programme prepare students to practice and otherwise relate to the profession? How does it keep students connected with current events in the profession? How does it reach out to the profession in order to share its learning?
- Society: How does the programme equip students to develop an informed understanding of social, cultural and environmental issues? How does it develop their capacity to address these problems?
- Registration: How does the programme develop the capacity of students to move on to the demands of internship and licensing?
6.4 Strategic self-assessment
How does the programme assess its own objectives? What are the standards by which students are assessed? What are the standards by which faculty are assessed? Does the programme allow for student feedback on faculty performance?
Transparency should be understood as a desirable objective – the more transparent an institution’s processes the higher should be the rating of the institution. What is the degree of transparency of the institution? To what extent are the process of course design and assessment open to students and other members of the community? How transparent and accessible is all college information to those who seek admission?
6.6 Human Resources
- Students: What are the goals of the college in the range of diversity of student backgrounds? How does the college attract and admit students? What are the qualifying standards that the programme demands?
- Faculty: How does the college provide the necessary faculty resources in order to run the programme? What is the evidence of the adequacy of such resources – particularly the ratio between full-time core faculty and visiting faculty? How are teaching and administrative loads assigned so that faculty also have time to pursue professional development? How are faculty abilities balanced so that all aspects of the curriculum are addressed?
- Staff: Description of the number, structure and responsibilities of administrative and other staff demonstrating adequacy to run the programme. ·
6.7 Human Resource Development
- List of events involving guest lecturers, visiting critics and public exhibitions
- Description of student support services including academic and personal counselling, career guidance, progress evaluation and feedback, and placement.
- Description of the policies, criteria and procedures for faculty appointment and promotion
- Description of the support provided by the institution for faculty professional development, including timetabling support, facilities for research, sabbaticals, and training opportunities.
- Evidence of how faculty remain current in their knowledge.
6.8 Physical Resources
Plans of physical space resources identifying usage of spaces for studios, lectures and seminars, workshops, library, computers, and all other spaces needed to run the programme. Plans for any changes that are under construction, funded or proposed. Evidence of ownership or rental agreements for usage of such spaces.
6.9 Information Resources
Detailed plans and catalogues of print, visual and digital information resources, including description of availability and accessibility. Justification of adequacy for the programme. Print resources must include a minimum of 5000 titles within the Dewey 720729 categories (or equivalent in other classification systems), as well as subscriptions to a minimum of 15 professional architecture journals in order to allow faculty and students to stay current with developments in the profession.
6.10 Financial Resources
Evidence of financial resources adequate to run the programme including budgets, fees, endowments, scholarships and development activities.
6.11 Administrative Structure
Description of administrative structure with particular reference to overall management responsibilities including strategic vision development, programme assessment, board of studies, routine administration, etc.
6.12 Student Competencies
Portfolios of student work at all levels of the programme covering a minimum of 30% of the students must be presented at the audit visit. Student portfolios must demonstrate evolution towards the following competencies that are demonstrable by the work of graduating students:
- The ability to design buildings and complexes of buildings in a manner that integrates the demands of site, climate, function, and building systems.
- The ability to understand and critique issues related to society, culture and environment; and to address these issues through architectural and urban design solutions.
- The ability to critically analyse and develop normative positions of value in relation to architecture.
- The ability to critique works of architecture.
- The ability to understand historical traditions and to position oneself in relationship to such traditions.
- The ability to exercise ethical judgment
- The ability to plan and manage one’s work
- The ability to understand the context of architectural practice including professional practice, organisational, contractual and ethical issues.
- The ability to synthesise one’s learning to date and present it in the form of a project or portfolio at crucial milestones in the programme, and particularly at the point of graduation.
In addition to these minimum competencies the vision document must present its concept of minimum competencies and suggest any additions or enhancement of these competencies that it seeks to achieve.
6.13 Faculty Competencies
Portfolios of all the faculty members must be presented, including both full-time and visiting faculty. Faculty portfolios must demonstrate the following competencies:
- The ability to earn a teaching position by producing innovative work. Such work should be in the form of publishable works of design, theory, history or criticism.
- The ability to understand, develop and execute good teaching practice.
- The ability to continuously learn; to continuously renew one’s professional knowledge, together with the ability to share and communicate such learning. In addition to these minimum competencies the vision document must present its concept of minimum competencies and suggest any additions or enhancement of these competencies that it seeks to achieve.
6.14 Institutional Competencies
The institution must also present a portfolio that draws from evidence presented in student and faculty portfolios, together with further analytical, critical and integrative material in order to demonstrate the following competencies:
- Ability to construct and implement an aspirational vision of architectural education
- Ability to encourage, support and nurture talent
- Ability to harness talent in order to become a site of innovation
7. Competencies of the Regulator
It goes without saying that all of the above will not be achievable if we do not have competent regulators. Therefore all the regulators, including the key administrators of the regulatory authority as well as the members of the inspection teams, should also publish their portfolios. These portfolios should demonstrate all the competencies that are required for faculty of individual institutions. In addition, the portfolio should demonstrate the ability to conceptually understand, analyse and evaluate key issues related to education and the profession. The regulatory authority should have a website on which all the portfolios are available as a matter of public record.