The table above shows the relatively small number of enrolments onto Architecture, Building and Planning courses compared to the vast majority of other subject areas. These statistics relate to full time undergraduate enrolment only. The issue of part time undergraduate and post graduate enrolment are articles in their own right and something I will discuss in later postings. For the purposes of this article I therefore want to focus on full time undergraduate enrolment. The decline in entrants onto building related disciplines is even more evident if we isolate these from Architecture and Planning disciplines. The table below shows a 24% reduction in entrants onto building related courses in the five years between 2007/08 and 2011/12, which is particularly worrying.
The HESA statistics above highlight two primary questions: 1. Why are Architecture, Building & Planning courses deemed to be a less attractive option compared to other subject areas; and; 2. Why are numbers of student enrolments on Building related courses in decline? I will attempt to answer these questions in a moment, however, to compound the issue it is also worth noting that UCAS have indicated that the 18 year old cohort is set to fall by circa 10% by 2020. So not only are numbers currently declining for Architecture, Building and Planning courses but there will be a steady decline in 18 year olds applying for courses generally over the next five years, resulting in further pressure on recruitment for these courses.
1. Why are Architecture, Building & Planning courses deemed to be a less attractive option compared to other subject areas;
As part of my role at Coventry University I am Admissions Tutor as well as lead for recruitment and outreach activities in my department. Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to visit a number of local Schools and Colleges, where I provide careers advice and generally try to raise awareness of built environment professions. Sadly, in the vast majority of cases school children have very little knowledge of careers or opportunities that are available within the built environment and in most cases have never heard let alone understand professions such as Building Surveyors, Architectural Technologists, Construction Managers, Building Services Engineers and the like. Quantity Surveying and Civil Engineering professions are often recognized, but not fully understood. The only built environment career that is generally recognized is the role of the Architect.
During my outreach visits I also take the opportunity to speak to careers advisors and worryingly in most cases the vast majority have as much knowledge of built environment careers as the school students themselves! Careers advice in schools tends to focus on traditional career paths in computing, legal professions, medical professions, sciences etc, depending on the focus of the school. When I speak to school students about the built environment they often think purely in terms of the practical trades such as bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing etc, and have no concept of professional roles. I explain to them that there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a construction trade as a career, however, the opportunities for them are much wider and I then go onto explain the difference between a trade career and a professional career. The situation is not so bad in Higher Education Colleges, however this is due to the fact that most of the Colleges I visit offer specific Built Environment courses.
Clearly, lack of awareness of built environment professions, particularly in schools, is a real issue because how can we expect someone to select a professional built environment career if they have never heard of them in the first place? My visits to Schools and Colleges really just scratch the surface, but highlights what I think is a significant contributing factor to why Building & Planning courses in particular are deemed to be a less attractive option compared to other subject areas.
Also, I suspect the recent recession and all of the negative publicity, particularly around the construction industry that ensued, would not have given a great deal of confidence for those looking at a career in the industry. Historically the construction industry has always mirrored the UK economy and has been subject to peaks and troughs as the economy has dipped into recession and eventually recovered. When the economy bounces back the construction industry bounces back strongly and this in turn creates opportunity. Even in times of recession there were still opportunities for built environment professionals and when the recovery starts to gather pace there will undoubtedly be a shortage of built environment professionals, due to high demand.
2. Why are numbers of student enrolments on Building related courses in decline?
Much of the answer to this question lies in the answer to the first question above in respect of the general lack of awareness of many built environment professions, as well as the impact of the economic downturn. There are however other factors that could explain the reduction in student enrolments on Building related courses.
Most people will be aware of the significant changes to University funding over the last few years and in particular the significant increase in the amount a student is required to pay if they want to go to University. In reality the cost of most undergraduate courses has not changed, what has changed is that the government no longer subsidise a large percentage of the fee (for the student) which they used too. The outcome is that students are now faced with tuition fees of around £9,000 per year (fees vary between universities), resulting in an investment of between £24,000 and £27,000 for a three year course without even thinking about living costs and other expenses. Although a low interest loan can be sought to cover tuition fees, in addition to their degree, most graduating students will leave University with a large debt. All of this has resulted in students thinking very carefully about the type of courses they will undertake or whether they will go to university at all. Nowadays, apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications may be considered as an alternative to going to University to gain a career in the construction industry due to the high costs involved, although in most cases these routes will initially lead to trade careers as opposed to professional careers.
The UK construction industry is an extremely important sector within the UK economy, making a significant contribution to GDP. For the future, we must ensure that we have a regular supply of knowledgeable, well educated and motivated people entering the construction industry at all levels and avoid the inevitable skills shortages that we often see when productivity progressively increases. It is clear from the statistics above that less and less people are choosing to enter the industry, particularly in building related professions, which will inevitably impact on the progress of the construction industry and the wider economy as a whole. So what do we do about it? – This is something I will look at in my next post, where I will make a number of suggestions in respect of raising awareness/publicity of built environment professional careers, lobbying the government to support ‘at risk’ professions, encouraging a higher percentage of females into built environment careers, alternative modes of study and how Higher Education can influence the future of built environment professions.
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