Hapless versus the CoA, India's so-called "eminent" architects cum RTI Activists cum officials cum educators fret, fume and weep in public

These are schools of architecture churning out students who will in the future design buildings and other structures in the country. And what does it take to open a school? Just the physical space, as per the minimum requirements prescribed by the Council of Architecture (CoA). There is no need to fulfill all other mandatory facilities such as appointing a specific number of faculty,  laboratory equipment, library, supporting staff etc. Everything can be temporarily ‘hired’ when inspectors from CoA come in for inspection. Later, the school owners are free to run the show in any way they want.

Believe it or not, but that’s how many architectural colleges in the country are being run in India. Many see this as a lucrative business and so there is a mad rush to open architecture schools. CoA statistics reveal that on an average, nine to 10 applications come in every month for opening a new institute. The numbers have gone up sharply, with the CoA granting approval to around 250 institutes to run degree courses in just five years. Till 2009, the total number of institutes in the country was about 130 but today it has gone up to 387.

Veteran architects express serious concern over the quality of professional training being seriously compromised .

Ashok Goel, a senior architect and RTI activist, alleges that some schools have just two to three assistant professors teaching more than 200 students. Fake names have been added to faculty lists to make up the CoA’s total required number of 15 faculty members (two professors, four assistant professors, eight associate professors and one HoD)  for 200 students. Qualifications are another issue. Master’s classes are being taught by faculty holding a bachelor’s degrees.

The RTI activist also accuses CoA of deliberately ignoring all norms while granting approval to institutes. “Top private institutions in Delhi NCR, which have been charging fees of Rs. 2 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh annually for a five-year bachelor of architecture course fail to maintain the required number of faculty and other basic facilities,” alleges Goel.

Agrees Divya Kush, vice president of the Indian Institute of Architects and member of CoA, “We have come across cases where one faculty was shown on the payrolls of four to five institutes. I agree that adequate faculty, quality infrastructure and unauthorised admission (admitting more students than the permitted strength) are some serious challenges for CoA.”

Members of CoA narrate instances of violation of its norms during inspections.
“During one of the inspections, I found irrelevant books like sports, cookery, comics and Bollywood magazines in the library of one of the institutes. As per the CoA norm, the institute has to maintain a certain umber of architecture books but since these books are expensive they buy anything to meet the requirement,” says a well-known architect, on the condition of anonymity.

“There are architectural schools which don’t run any class round the year at all. They just maintain fake attendance of the students and allow them to take exams every year. There has never been so much deterioration of the standard of architects than its happening today,” says Goel.

On skilling needs, Pradeep Mishra, an architect and head of Rudrabhishek Enterprises Pvt Ltd, an architecture consultancy firm, says the number of qualified architects has to increase as the construction industry is growing rapidly. “However, if the products fail to match international standards, what’s the use of producing such a large number of unskilled and unqualified architects in the country? Society will definitely not benefit from it.”

Who is to blame?

“I feel sad when I see my 60-year battle to protect the title of architect come to nothing,” says 94-year-old Padma Shri awardee and veteran architect J R Bhalla. He played a key role in the enactment of the Architects Act in 1972.

In March this year, the previous UPA government appointed him as chairperson of a committee constituted to examine amendments in the Act. “The government is unhappy with the present standard of education as questions are being raised over the integrity and quality of architects,” says Bhalla.

So who is to blame?

“I call the whole system of today’s education of architecture a dysfunctional one and for this I first blame the students and their parents. Often parents threaten us of dire consequences if we fail the student. These are those students who get 50% to 60% marks in their Board exams. Why will an institute go beyond the expectation of an average student in terms of offering high standard of education or facilities when the student himself is happy with the average quality,” says Rupinder Singh, former dean, Sushant School of Architecture.

Adds Singh, “On the other hand, the promoter of the school has no concern for academic standards. He has to see his profit margin and the bare minimum he can invest to run the institutes.”

Experts also blame the CoA for granting approvals to institutes without proper checks.
“I know some institutes were granted approval in just 24 hours. During my tenure, we used to take six to eight months for that,” says a former president of CoA, requesting anonymity.

Another expert questions CoA’s policy of informing institutes in advance about inspection team visits. “CoA should carry out surprise checks and take strict action against defaulting institutes and ensure that the rest fall in line,” he says.