Over 100 Architecture students voice anger over reduced studio time

Students concerned limits to studio access will risk quality, wellbeing, and job prospects receive a reply

Over one hundred Architecture students have voiced their anger in an open letter to their Department, demanding that the University’s blanket approach to four-hour in-person teaching is reconsidered.

This was met with a response from Tim Ibell, Associate Dean of the Architecture and Civil Engineering Department, less than a day later, who argued “we cannot, and must not over-promise”, reiterating that plans prioritise the safety of staff and students, and committing to altering teaching as government guidelines change.

Students feared they would be restricted to four-hours of studio time, where the University’s sector-leading course claims to take a “studio-first” approach and, under normal circumstances, architecture students nationally have an average of 26.4 hours of access to these facilities.

“Access to architecture studios as a learning environment provides the foundation for architectural education, the key to student satisfaction, and the maintenance of the University of Bath’s standing as one of the top architecture schools in the country.” 

Architecture students in an open letter to their department

The letter, signed by 127 Architecture students, raised two main causes of frustration. First, a lack of genuine student consultation in developing these plans: “The ‘student consultation’ that was conducted, a single SSLC meeting, proved to be nothing more than an exercise in departmental box-ticking”.

Continuing, “Of the hour-long meeting, seven students managed to give their views and questions for a total of fourteen minutes, certainly far from enough time to properly understand the magnitude of the changes that will affect hundreds of students”.

The students’ second concern is that the University-wide four-hour policy does not consider the Architecture students’ unique need to access studio space in order to work and learn. Students claimed that studio working supports their mental health, offers constant peer-to-peer support and facilitates complex group projects.

According to the letter, plans for access to campus as announced on Thursday unfairly disadvantage these students and will have a significant impact on their quality of work and student experience, which could cost the School its number-one ranking and national prestige.

“The mental health of your students, the quality of the work that we produce, our job prospects and the reputation of the department are at serious risk. We demand that this blanket policy for campus access is reviewed and provision is made based on the teaching methods employed, not just a naive perception of equality.” 

Architecture students in an open letter to their department

Responding within one day, Ibell thanked the students for raising their concerns and responded that the “prime driver” for teaching decisions made has been “the health and safety of our community”. “We must, and will, stick to government requirements of the day”, the response read.

The response cited a second guiding principle for the announced teaching plans: to “plan for the worst, and hope for the best”.

“The plans which have been shared with you represent the ‘worst’, unless of course we have a total lockdown again.”

Tim Ibell from the Faculty of Engineering and Design

The University’s plans have been made with the government’s two metre social distancing guidelines in mind, but the response to the letter promises to respond to any changes in advice: “We will exploit any possible opportunity we have in government-regulation relaxations to maximise the time available”.

In a detail not yet released elsewhere, or confirmed by the University, the author explains that since plans are making full use of space on campus, the University is investigating “the leasing of additional space in the City of Bath in order to supplement our self-study spaces on campus”.

George Luffingham, a sixth year Architecture student who co-authored the letter with Zeid Truscott, said in a comment to Bath Time:  “I would like to stress that we are not asking for architectural education to be prioritised over other courses, only that the way that a course is taught needs to influence the allocation of time and space on campus. Some courses are better suited to online learning than others. Equal provision is not the same as equal opportunity, and so a blanket approach such as the current proposal will naturally result in inequalities between and within courses.”

The University of Bath are treating Ibell’s statement as speaking on behalf of the University. The Students’ Union was approached for comment outside of regular working hours and this article will be updated with their comment if shared.

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