3 hidden costs of architecture school
Travel and accommodation costs for study trips can add up to thousands of pounds. Source: Shutterstock

In June, three student representatives at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) penned an open letter calling for universities to publish costs for materials and trips to be taken as part of their architecture module structure.

They urge heads of architecture schools to provide “alternative assessment provisions and/or subsidised programmes”.

Their case is simple: architecture school is getting increasingly unaffordable.

“It is our belief that architectural education should not be a cause for financial hardship. It is our belief that schools providing architectural education have pastoral responsibility to ensure that their courses do not push students into financial hardship and to provide suitable provisions to support and prevent financial hardship,” the open letter wrote.

According to Simeon Shtebunaev, a student representative on the RIBA Council who co-wrote the letter, there was a “significant” number of applications to the Council’s student hardship fund, detailing a “striking” degree of hardship.

“All three of us were emotionally touched by the hard decisions that we had to make. However, what not one of us expected was the surprise and frustration we experienced when reading some of the circumstances our fellow students have found themselves in,” Shtebunaev said, as reported by BD Online.

These are the three major causes of financial hardship they found:

1. Large-scale models

These models don’t come cheap. Source: Facebook/Sanctuary Niseko

While some students are able to fork out additional expenses for materials, large-scale models pose a problem due to price, and the majority of schools make this a mandatory part of the course.

There are, however, schools like the Welsh School of Architecture (WSA) at Cardiff University, which details the cost of everything deemed an essential part of the programme and covers costs. In terms of materials, the school listed the following as covered: technical drawing equipment/board/specialist paper, modelling materials, extensive or specialist printing and software access.

2. University field trips

Travel is a core component for many architecture programmes today. Some schools host advanced studios in which students travel one week each semester to visit sites for design projects, helping them understand the context behind key issues within studio briefs.

Naturally, travel and accommodation for these trips costs money, which not all schools choose to cover (some will only cover basic costs and students have to meet the remaining balance).

The 2015 RIBA Student Finances Survey found this to be a “key area of financial pressure”, with almost half (46 percent) of participants stating that they spent between £300 and £700 on study trips during the academic year. Forty-three percent said their parents, guardians or partners helped pay for these trips.

3. Cumulative printing costs

The constant extra cost of printing presentation materials are driving students to seek financial help from parents or part-time employment. Source: Facebook/CMR University School of Architecture

In addition to the high cost of creating physical models, students also have to present their design ideas using drawings, diagrams, renderings and collage, usually plotted on paper. On such traditional studio courses, the costs of these materials can become heavy.

Close to two-thirds (63 percent) of students said they spent over £700 on course-related materials (including equipment) in one academic year. More than one-third (35 percent) spent over £1,500, the 2015 survey found.

This is problematic because 16 percent of respondents claimed to have a monthly income of £500 or less, a significant change from the 37 percent of respondents saying the same in 2013 and the 57 percent of respondents in 2011.

“It was felt that there was huge pressure to spend money on course materials/trips, and many students felt that additional funding should be available either through universities or through Student Finance,” the report wrote.

£1 = US$1.29 at the time of writing

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