Prescribing Qualifications


An essential part of ARB's work is to ensure that anyone on ARB's Register is appropriately qualified. This is an important safeguard giving the users of architects' services the confidence that they are using a qualified professional.

ARB's work in prescribing qualifications is central to meeting that aim. "Prescribing" is the term used in the Act to describe the process we go through to assess whether we are confident that the qualifications we prescribe meet established criteria, and we look at whether students gaining those qualifications have the right knowledge, understanding and skills to become architects.

The process of prescribing qualifications is robust but cost effective. In the main, institutions use their existing systems for internal and external review to support their application. During the process, we may raise enquiries concerning the institution's ability to meet the criteria and seek assurances for future action. This exchange helps to give us confidence in the qualification, and helps the institution itself by highlighting areas which may need to be addressed.

We publish details about prescribed qualifications to help students and prospective students make informed choices about gaining qualifications in architecture. It is important that they too can have confidence that they are obtaining a valuable qualification which can support both UK and EU registration.

How a qualification is prescribed
The Architects Act gives ARB the responsibility for prescribing the architectural qualifications needed by students before they can register with ARB.

studentThere are a number of schools and institutions throughout the UK offering a wide range of ARB-prescribed qualifications. They must go through a stringent process to ensure that the qualifications they award to students meet the relevant criteria and that they equip students with the knowledge they need to progress through their architectural education.

To ensure continued prescription, or to have a new qualification recognised by ARB, the institutions have to present us with documentary evidence that demonstrates key objectives have been or will be met. The Board needs to be confident that students gaining an ARB-prescribed qualification can show that they have met all of the relevant criteria. An institution that meets these key objectives gives the Board the required degree of confidence.

When an institution applies to have their qualifications prescribed, we strongly encourage them to use information that they already hold, and to submit it electronically. Not only is this less onerous and more convenient for the institutions, it also avoids duplication. This in turn leads to a much more streamlined and efficient system for ARB and for the institution, as both the time and resources needed for the prescription process are reduced.

Applications are subject to detailed consideration. Any questions subsequently arising can be addressed by the institution submitting additional information or explanation, giving the Prescription Committee and the institution the opportunity to collate all of the relevant information before it is put to the Board to decide whether to prescribe the qualification.

The Committee has appointed five Independent Advisers to assist with scrutinising applications. While the advisers played an important role during 2011 in helping the Prescription Committee to implement the new Criteria, their main focus is to provide technical expertise to the Committee where this is required. Feedback has confirmed that the independent advisers' input into the prescription process provides a valuable external commentary, with institutions using the information to develop and improve the qualifications that they offer, resulting in increased opportunities for students.

Once the Committee has considered the information, the Board then looks at the Committee's recommendations before deciding whether to prescribe the qualification. Prescription is usually granted for four years if the Board is confident that the requirements for that qualification have been met. If the Board is less confident, it can limit prescription to under four years, or impose special conditions. Conditions of prescription usually involve an institution submitting specific additional information to the Board annually so that any potential issues are dealt with at an early stage. This helps to prevent a situation arising where students could be disadvantaged because the qualification was not fit for purpose.

For first-time prescription, the Board consults with stakeholders, for example, the RIBA and the Association of Consultant Architects, who have an interest in this area of the Board's work. The consultation process gives the Board the opportunity to seek views from a range of professional organisations, and this external input helps to inform the Board in deciding whether to prescribe the qualification.
It is important both for the institutions and students that the Board continues to have confidence that a prescribed qualification delivers the expected outcomes, and institutions submit information annually to retain that confidence. This information will take the form of, for example, external examiner reports, internal and external review reports, statistics and programme changes.

The process of prescribing a qualification, or renewing an existing qualification, is detailed and thorough. It has to be, not only to ensure that the Board has confidence in the qualification itself, but also to ensure that the students who gain ARB-prescribed qualifications meet the standards required to join the UK Register of Architects.

2011 prescription facts
  • The Board renewed prescription of 12 qualifications from 6 institutions
  • The average time taken to process an application was 29 weeks
  • We received and processed 46 annual monitoring submissions, involving 123 prescribed qualifications
  • 9 annual monitoring submissions were late, and 12 submissions required further clarifications following consideration by the Prescription Committee
  • The average time to process the annual monitoring submissions was 3.72 weeks
  • We undertook 14 planning meetings with schools and institutions of architecture

University liaison
University liaison visits continue to form an important part of our work. Not only do they establish a helpful and constructive point of contact between ARB and the schools/institutions of architecture, but they also raise students' awareness of the responsibilities placed on architects, along with an understanding of professional regulation.

We provide workshops on request for students taking prescribed qualifications at all levels. The workshops introduce students to ARB and the professional responsibilities that come with registration, as well as the importance of ensuring good practice and maintaining standards for the good of the public and the profession. The workshops continue to be popular and well-received, which is reflected in the increased number of visits for 2011.

Of the visits to schools/institutions in 2011:
18 were at Part 1 (a first degree in architecture)
12 were at Part 2 (a second degree in architecture)
19 were at Part 3 and the Return to Practice session (a professional practice examination)

Liaison with our stakeholders
As in previous years, we met regularly with the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architect (SCHOSA), Association of Professional Studies Advisers in Architecture (APSAA) and the RIBA during 2011. These meetings are helpful, because it means we are able to share information, and keep fully up to date with developments that might impact on our work in prescribing qualifications.

Practical Training Experience
After several months of discussion and negotiation, ARB and the RIBA jointly revised and agreed on the criteria for practical training experience that architecture students need before they take the Part 3 professional practice examination.

Both organisations worked closely together to develop common practical training experience requirements that meet ARB's requirements for registration and the RIBA's requirements for membership. They replace two separate sets of requirements, thereby reducing the burden on individuals who are ultimately seeking ARB registration and RIBA membership.

This common approach has also reduced the complexity of the differing sets of criteria operated by both bodies in the past. The changes were implemented during 2011, and reflect the global nature of the practice of architecture through increased flexibility in the types of placement that students can undertake during their professional experience in terms of location, timing and supervising professional. Anecdotal feedback to date suggests that the revised criteria have been warmly welcomed, although both ARB and the RIBA are monitoring their impact very closely to gauge the benefits brought about by this initiative.