learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Statistics: the numbers behind UK architectural education

I have the somewhat ambitious (but highly strategic) target of fleshing out, structuring and mostly writing one draft chapter of my thesis per month through the summer. If I can complete this task by October, I’ll be able to enter the long dark nights of winter with six months in hand to beat the thing into shape before I submit in it March 2012.

Hence, this month, my primary writing pre-occupation has been a chapter on the general context of higher education (HE) over the last three decades and the more specific context of architectural education (AE) over last two decade and a half. It’s given me the opportunity to get into some of the numbers that are in the public domain relating to both HE and AE.

The graphs I’m presenting below are all generated from the data I’ve scraped from the relevant websites, statistics and annual reports. Some of the data will find its way into the chapter, some not. But taken together, it’s been a helpful opportunity for me to crunch some numbers and test some hunches. It has been a task to download countless .csv and .xls files from government websites, and then a painful chore to manually scrape other data from annual reports that are helpfully published only in pdf format (I’m looking at you, RIBA and ARB). The data is all Copyright of its respective owners / publishers, and the graphs presented here are my own. All this is work in progress; I may one day be able to publish this data with a more rigorous analysis and carefully verified sources, so for the time bring trust this only as far as you can throw it.

Data recording the number of students in higher education in the United Kingdom is available from two sources: the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which provides archived ‘Social Trends’ data for at ten year intervals between the 1970/1 and 2000/1 academic years, and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which provides data annually between the 1995/6 and 2009/10 academic years.

Combining the two sources on one graph (and plotting an exponential trend line from the ONS data) indicates the clear continuation of the trend in growth of student numbers between the academic years 1995/6 to 2000/1, when there were 2,553,250 part and full time students in HE. The growth in student numbers during the last two decades is significant, but is broadly in line with the growth experienced since 1970.

As you might notice (clicking on all of these graphs will load a larger version) for the one academic year of overlap between the two sources of data (2000/1) there is a slight discrepancy between the two sources (89,395 students, or of 3.9%). I can’t determine the cause of this, and while its within a reasonable proximity not to be worrying I’d be interested to hear any suggestions why the ONS and HESA disagree.

The data gets more interesting when you break it down by the four constituent countries of the UK. As you can see from the next graph, almost all of the growth in UK student numbers has happened in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have maintained modest growth.

I still need to collate the opening dates of new universities in the UK, so I expect some of the growth in student numbers in England to have been caused by new universities opening during this time frame.

Over the four academic years between 1996/7 and 1999/2000, student numbers increased at average of 2.8% per year. This relatively stable period of growth was disrupted in the 2000/1 academic year, with an increase of student numbers by 9.1%. Over the four academic years between 2000/1 and 2003/4, student numbers increased at an average of 5.4% per year. This rate of growth relented slightly 2003/4 and 2007/8, but for the two most recent years available the data would suggest a return to growth above the rate established between 1996/7 and 1999/2000.

So, despite a few blips here and there, the number of students in higher education in the UK is growing exponentially, and it has been growing for some time. The widening participation agenda of the New Labour era has had a lasting impact on HE, with more people going to university or other forms of HE now than ever before.

So what about architecture? Since the 2001/2 academic year, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published an annual report compiling statistics provided by RIBA validated schools of architecture and statistics relating to office-based candidates for RIBA Parts I, II and III (they’re online here). Complete or partial participation in the survey supporting the RIBA Education Statistics is voluntary, and as a result some reports do not represent the statistics of all validated schools, and I’m presuming that not all schools completed (or were able to complete) all parts of the survey. The implications of this voluntary participation are discussed below. Whereas the ONS data can supplement the HESA data on general HE statistics, without published statistics pre-dating the 1997/8 academic year, conclusions regarding the number of students studying architecture should be limited to the twelve years available (data for the years 1997/8 was provided retrospectively in the first 2001/2 RIBA Education Statistics report).

The next chart illustrates the total number of students in all academic years of RIBA validated architecture courses with the number of new entrants to RIBA validated Part I and Part II courses.

Things are pretty stable from 1997/8 until 2002/3. The sharp rise in the total number of students studying architecture in the 2004/5 academic year is notable, representing a year on year increase of 19.67%.

Presented at a slightly larger scale, here are the new entrants to Part I and II courses.

While the RIBA Education Statistics Report 2004/5 was correct in reporting an unprecedented near-20% increase in total student numbers that year, it is clear that this jump in student numbers was heightened by an anomalous drop in 2003/4, visible in both preceding graphs. Although the RIBA Education Statistics Report 2003/4 does not explain that year’s drop in student numbers, it should be noted that fewer schools chose to participate in the that survey than in any previous or subsequent year. Problematically, after 2002/3, RIBA Education Statistics Reports do not expressly state the number of schools participating in the survey, only the number of validated schools that chose not to participate in either the entire survey or that did respond to certain questions. For example, the 2003/4 Report notes that “all but three Schools of Architecture provided information for this report.” I’m still trying to work out the total number of validated courses at each year for the duration of these surveys, but will hopefully find that and other data next week when I have a few hours spare in the RIBA Library. Given the difficulty in ascertaining the comparability of the 2003/4 survey against other years, it would be apposite to consider that year’s results as an exception. In doing so, the number of students entering RIBA validated courses maintained a steady year-on-year growth between 2001/2 and 2008/9 of 5.45%.

Given that the RIBA validated track to become a registered architect takes at least seven years, the data gets more interesting when you consider the statistics not just at entry into a course, but at its natural conclusion. For instance, the following graph shows the number of students passing RIBA Part III courses and the number of new admissions (not including re-admissions) to the Architects Registration Board (ARB) – that data being extracted from the ARB’s annual reports. Again, with the exception of the RIBA data for 2003/4, which I’m treating with caution, there’s a broad correlation of the numbers: more people pass RIBA Part III, more people register with the ARB (a legal requirement to trade as an architect in the UK).

The data behind the green line was supplied by ARB; the blue line by RIBA. Note, again, the blip in 2003/4 when there was lower participation than normal in the RIBA survey. The modest increase in the number of newly qualified architects registering with the ARB over the last decade or so has contributed to a steadily increasing number of registered members: almost 33,000 across the UK in 2009.

Looking back through the RIBA Education data, we can go into more detail about the number of students passing the three stages of an RIBA validated architectural education.

The next graph illustrates the total numbers of students passing RIBA Parts I, II and III. As discussed earlier, the first half of the ‘noughties’ represented a turning point in the number of students entering RIBA Part I validated courses. This is reflected in the number of students passing those same courses three years later:

As you can see from the above chart, however, the number of students passing Part II and Part III remains relatively stable, largely because the spike in entries to Part I courses in the early ‘noughties’ hasn’t yet progressed that far through the system. The RIBA Education Statistics report from 2010/11 (due around about October) will perhaps begin to tell us more about the longer term effects of that rise in Part I entrants and passes.

Of greatest concern, however, for the shape and structure of architectural education today, are the numbers presented in the final chart below, mapping entries to RIBA Part I courses and passes from RIBA Part III. This is something that my supervisor, Prof. Ruth Morrow, has talked about at some length in recent lectures at QUB and elsewhere.

Regardless of the fact that the shortest amount of time a student can spend between starting Part I and finishing Part III is seven years (and that the spike in admissions from the early 2000s onwards has yet to be reflected in Part III passes), there is a dramatic drop-off between the number of people who enter RIBA Part I and complete RIBA Part III.

In 2000/1, for instance, less than half the number of people passed RIBA Part III (and received the accreditation to become a legally registered architect) as passed RIBA Part I. Notwithstanding the effects of the last decade’s expansion of numbers in HE and AE, there has long been a massive drop off between the number of students who start studying architecture as do who finish and enter the profession.

As Prof. Morrow herself asked at her QUB inaugural lecture last summer, where do these students go?

Many of its fiercest advocates will argue that AE’s strength is its quality and richness as a broad education in the humanities that can prepare students for any number of career paths. But as we approach the 2012 introduction of student fees of up to £9,000 per annum, I’m increasingly interested not only in where these students go to, but how AE itself can be better design, structured, and validated to support the aspirations, needs and demands of students who are increasingly likely to never practice architecture in a traditional sense.

On Tuesday, I’ll be traveling to London to take part in the RIBA’s ‘Tough Times’ Student Forum. I’ll be particularly interested to take the pulse of AE from the perspective of those students on taught courses from up and down the country. The experiences that they’ve had and the ideas that they put forward will, I hope, shape the continuing evolution of AE in this country.

Meanwhile, if you have any comments, corrections or suggestions regarding my handling of the data, please drop me a line.

Sources available on request.

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Definitions of architectural practice: no. 1 the ARB

As discussed earlier, one of the starting points of this process has been to address the known definitions of alternative architectural practice. But to define the alternative, I want to also define the non-alternative. I’ll be collating definitions of architectural practice under this heading. First up, is the Architects Registration Board (UK) which manages the statutory register of approved architects practising in the United Kingdom. This explanation of the 1997 Architects Act suggests some tentative definitions for non-alternative / mainstream / traditional architectural practice.

What else does the code cover?

The code expects architects to: act with integrity; provide adequate resources when undertaking professional work; promote their services in a truthful and responsible manner; carry out their work diligently, with due regard to the relevant standards; have regard to their client’s interests, and to conserving and enhancing the quality of the environment; maintain professional service and competence in areas relevant to their work; carry out the requirements of a contract with due care, knowledge and attention; ensure the security of moneys entrusted to their care; hold adequate and appropriate professional indemnity insurance; manage their personal and professional finances prudently; organise and run their professional work responsibly, with regard for their clients’ interests; and deal promptly and appropriately with disputes or complaints relating to the professional work either of themselves or their practice.

The Architects Act 1997: Q&A. Available: http://www.arb.org.uk/about/the-architects-act-1997-qanda.shtml [4/8/2009, 2009].

This is not to say that alternative architectural practice is the antithesis of this definition. But this is one of the ways in which the profession defines itself. More to follow.

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About the project

learning architecture is an academic blog of James Benedict Brown, previously a doctoral candidate in architectural pedagogy at the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering at Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. James passed his viva in September 2012 and graduated the following December.

About the author

James Benedict Brown has worked and studied in England, Northern Ireland, France and Canada. Following the completion of his PhD at QUB, he was appointed Lecturer in Architecture at Norwich University of the Arts. A short bio is here.

About the supervisors

The project is supervised by Prof. Ruth Morrow and Keith McAllister. Prior to his appointment at Qatar University in 2009, Prof. Ashraf Salama also supervised the project.


Click here for the bibliography to date.


Click here for a selection of peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed writing.


Click here for a glossary-in-progress of key terms used in the project.

Conference diary

Conferences and seminars of interest to the project.


All images are used for illustrative purposes only, and the copyright remains with the artist and/or creator. Please contact me if I have misappropriated an image or incorrectly credited it.


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