2019-2020 Access and Participation Statement

Ambition and Strategy

The London School of Architecture (LSA) is a small, new and dynamic alternative HE provider. It was established in October 2015 and enrolled its first cohort of students on to its Professional Diploma in Designing Architecture (RIBA Part 2) in the same month. The programme is validated by London Metropolitan University and it is the only HE qualification offered by the LSA.

The founding principles of the LSA are now widely recognised within the architectural sector of higher education as being unique, even ‘revolutionary’. The LSA has responded to the relatively recent opportunities for alternative providers to establish themselves in the HE sector and committed itself to providing a route into the architectural profession for those with the greatest talents and from the widest possible range of backgrounds.

Sir Terry Farrell – whom the government commissioned to review the build environment in the Farrell Review – has commented that the “LSA is an intelligent response to the changing nature of the architectural profession and higher education. Its model is based on a deep engagement with contemporary urban issues, and offers a much more affordable route to becoming an architect”.

In developing its Vision and Mission the LSA has not been confined or constrained by legacy or preconceptions from long standing practice. Through its recent development path, the LSA has been able to reflect on the most current and urgent issues for those delivering higher education in architecture; it has, as a result, been able to build in access principles that are designed to proactively address the soft and hard barriers to the profession/industry. This is central to its stated Mission and it forms an important part of the LSA’s development plan for the period 2017/18– 2020/21.

In this initial phase of development for the LSA, the priority for widening access and participation has been to tackle the hard barrier of higher education costs at the Part 2 stage of architectural education. This is being achieved through its financial model. Alongside this financial imperative the LSA has also developed an educational model that supports access and participation by focusing on work-based learning and embedded mentoring for students throughout their studies.

 

Financial model  

The LSA launched with an innovative financial model that seeks to reduce the financial burden on students with the long-term ambition of widening access to architectural education from across the whole of society. LSA fees are substantially less than the majority of architectural schools [1]; in addition these fees are offset by the salary students earn during their first year from an integrated 12-month work placement within the LSA’s Practice Network.

From 2018/19, the LSA’s tuition fees for both First and Second Year students are £7,500 a year. This is still significantly lower than the £9,250 fees that the vast majority of the UK’s university-based courses will be charging in the 2018/19 academic year. Additionally, as noted above, in the first year the LSA’s students earn a minimum of £12,000 a year, and frequently more than this depending on experience and the practice’s profile.

At the point of establishment in October 2015, the LSA, as a small independent HE provider, could not provide its students with access to student loan support from the Student Loans Company (SLC). This placed its students at a disadvantage compared to their peers in most parts of the wider university sector. It was, therefore, one of the key access milestones for the LSA to receive Specific Course Designation for its Professional Diploma so that its students could engage with the normal loan system. This application was successful in May 2018 and access to loans was in place for LSA students for the start of the 2018/18 academic year.

In the intervening years the LSA has recognised that one of the key barriers to postgraduate study (and the Professional Diploma fits into this category) is a lack of financial resources. Research has shown that there is a general aspiration to higher level study but that opportunities are not the same between different socio-economic groups. Indeed it has been argued that graduates from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely than those from higher socio-economic backgrounds to intend to go on to postgraduate study but less likely to actually do so[2]. For students from disadvantaged groups with the ambition and potential to pursue further postgraduate level study there clearly needs to be a range of targeted support to tackle these barriers.

For the LSA, therefore, it was crucial to drive forward on fundraising and this was a shared endeavour for both the executive team and the Board of Trustees. It should not be underestimated how challenging this approach is, especially in a climate of economic uncertainty. However, the LSA has shown that it can work. As a significant example, in November 2016, the Garfield Weston Foundation awarded the LSA a grant of £50,000 and the major proportion of the grant (£40,000) was to provide bursaries. The LSA’s Bursaries Committee (a trustee sub-committee) assessed the academic merit and financial need of applicants and awarded £20,000 in two academic years. In reviewing the success of this programme those in receipt of the bursary were asked about the impact of the support. One student commented:

“I believe it is of paramount importance that there is a diverse background mix for those shaping the city for a diverse population. I grew up on a council estate and I believe that as well as my hard work and skills, being from a low-income, working-class household might offer an experience or approach that is worth adding to the collective practice of architecture. Frankly, the Garfield Weston bursary ensured that I could finish my studies, without it there was no way I could have been able to support myself to the end of the course. During the critical point of my studies, I could focus on my work.”

Another student commented:

“I come from a low-income, single-parent family. Bursaries aside, all my living and education costs were self-funded… The Garfield Weston bursary was critical in allowing me to focus on the academic pressures and ultimately to graduate with confidence and the ability to embrace opportunities as they came along.”

For the Bursaries Committee the points made by both students regarding the ability to focus on study is a critical consideration in allocating funds; and it has reinforced the importance of focusing on student needs across both years of study. And while the opportunity for LSA students to access SLC loans is a very significant development for the LSA in supporting access, it has learnt much about its student body through these early years and this will help inform future efforts to provide the broadest range of financial support for its students – whether it is the availability of SLC loans, the benefits of a salary during first year practice study or targeted bursaries designed to improve the chances of graduation success from those in disadvantaged groups.

 

Educational model

The Practice Network is a crucial part of the innovation being championed the LSA. It offers a wide range of work-based learning opportunities for students, from boutique design-led studios to some of the largest firms in the world; with a wide variety of critical and creative interests; and operating from traditional practice set-ups to more experimental financial/organisational models. And the Practice Network is central to the delivery of the course in both years.

There are two main roles that members of the Practice Network take in the First Year: Practice Mentors and Design Think Tank Leaders. Each practice must nominate a Practice Mentor, who is responsible for the overseeing the student’s progress within the placement. Each Design Think Tank is led by a Leader who directs the progress of the Design Think Tank Project. The Leaders can be drawn from anywhere within the practice, and do not have to also be a Practice Mentors. In the Second Year, some members of the Practice Network are employed to tutor the design thesis projects.

The role of mentoring has been shown to be of considerable significance for those of a BME background. In the Stephen Lawrence Building Futures Programme review document[3], a Part 2 graduate is quoted as saying of the support she received from that programme:

“Through gaining the internship and valuable work experience, I feel more confident in my skills and knowledge to complete my architectural qualification at part 3. I also feel inspired to mentor others and help them become passionate about architecture and contributing to the wider field and profession.”

The LSA regards its educational model as a major contributor to this type of support for students studying architecture.

 

Geographical focus

The LSA is rooted in London and the members of the Practice Network that support the delivery of the programme are all located in London. Future planned outreach work designed to encourage greater diversity in architectural education forms part of LSA’s Development Plan, and it will also centre on London and the surrounding areas. However, the promotion of the opportunities for students at the LSA is deliberately widespread and recruitment takes place from across the UK and also in Europe. The myriad ways that the LSA promotes architectural education and architectural discourse through events, expert talks and seminars can be seen through its website.

 

Equality and Diversity policy 

The LSA aims to make education as accessible and responsive as possible to all existing and potential students, and to provide education to them which recognises and respects their differences. The School recognises that its ability to meet those needs is improved by having a diverse workforce that generally reflects its student base. The LSA views this interplay between diverse student body and diverse academic and management / professional support workforce as highly relevant to its approach to access. In a short film Architecture for All produced by the Architectural Foundation (AF), one contributor, a senior project officer at the Greater London Authority, comments that he has never been taught by or taught with another black person[4]. The LSA is determined to make a difference in changing that experience for future students.

In addition, it seeks to:

  • understand how diversity can improve our ability to deliver better services
  • provide services that are responsive to our students’ needs
  • provide a supportive, open environment where employees may use their talents fully and where they are treated fairly and with dignity and respect, in an environment free from abuse or offensive behaviour, bullying or harassment, intimidation or prejudice regardless of a protected characteristic (race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, age, marital status or civil partnership, pregnancy/maternity, gender reassignment), or additionally, any impairment, responsibility for dependants, social background or any other individual characteristic which may unfairly affect their opportunities in life.

The LSA’s equal opportunity policy aims to ensure everyone receives treatment that is fair, equitable and consistent with their skills and abilities. Learning to work with people’s differences, visible or not, enables us to work together effectively and helps us to anticipate and meet the needs of all of our students; to recruit, retain and develop the best people; to fulfil our legal commitments; and also to act responsibly in the communities of which we are a part.

We recognise that our ability to meet our students’ diverse needs is improved by having a workforce that has the range of skills and understanding to achieve our objectives. We undertake to listen to our students and involve them in our development in ways that respect and value their diversity.

 

Student Recruitment and Student Support 

The LSA receives significantly more applications than it has places available. It is therefore a ‘selecting’ institution. Its Admissions Policy states:

“The LSA is committed to ensuring that applicants are recruited, selected and assessed solely on their relevant merits and abilities and in accordance with the LSA entry criteria. The LSA supports equal opportunities and therefore no applicant will be treated less favourably on the grounds of disability, religion, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, sexual orientation, gender, marital status or political beliefs.”

As a professional body qualifying course there are constraints on entry criteria to the LSA’s Professional Diploma and it requires applicants to have a good degree in architecture and ARB/RIBA Part 1. Applicants are also required to demonstrate talent as a designer as well as ability and motivation to complete the course successfully. The School looks for its students to rise to the ambitious challenge set by the programme. However, it also guides applicants to address the School’s P.R.I.M.E. values [5] and P.R.I.M.E. characteristics.[6] The LSA believes that this approach, which is tested at interview, is an innovative way to allow candidates to present to the best of their abilities regardless of their backgrounds. Each interview panel contains at least one senior member of staff and, again by way of innovation, is usually also attended by a current student.

As a small institution the LSA has given responsibility to its Deputy Director for the pastoral care of the students, which includes developing and maintaining a safe and confidential relationship with tutees; providing advice and support to tutees in matters related to academic work and personal development; and working with tutees to find appropriate pathways to resolve difficulties.

Beyond the Deputy Director, there are clear additional lines of dialogue for students who need to discuss any academic or pastoral issues: with Practice Mentor or Module Leader; the Operations Manager; Student Reps; and one of the other Directors. Students are encouraged to make a judgement about the appropriate level for the help they need, and will be made aware that the LSA welcomes them to connect with this network of support at any point of access.

The LSA has also instituted a web of social / professional relationships. In addition, First Year students are paired with ‘buddies’ from the second year, who can be called upon to provide guidance and advice. This is seen as providing an important on-going support for those students who may lack confidence because of their background.

 

Data and information to inform decision-making

The LSA has only a limited internal data set with which to help develop its policy and practice in respect of access and participation. Following Specific Course Designation it will be submitting data to HESA and it hopes that this will help identify areas for future focus. However, as the Stephen Lawrence Trust has noted, it can be a real struggle to find comprehensive data on students from BME backgrounds accessing architecture education [7].

 

Monitoring and evaluating performance 

The Executive Committee has overall responsibility for the implementation of the Access and Participation policy. The People Committee, a sub-committee of the Board of Trustees, has overall responsibility for this policy.

 

Conclusion

 There is a very active discourse and debate taking place across architecture on access and participation and, in particular, ways in which to change educational provision and professional architectural practice so that those from BME backgrounds are represented in line with national population figures. The School currently has around 16.5% BME student enrolled.

The LSA believes that it has started to play an important part in changing the current situation through its financial and educational models. These will be sustained and built upon. For the future it intends to:

  • through analysis of data build its understanding of those groups from disadvantaged backgrounds that should be encouraged to apply and be admitted to the LSA
  • develop an outreach programme that proactively encourages greater diversity in architectural education, including the use of ambassadors and alumni
  • deepen our relationship with other like-minded providers and organisations – such as IntoUniversity and the Social Mobility Foundation – to explain and publicise the opportunities for inclusive architectural education
  • target any future bursaries to help support access and participation activity
  • continue to utilise the experience of its Board of Trustees in developing creative ideas in support of access and participation.

Footnotes

[1] In the UK there are some 50 architecture schools accredited by the Architects Registration Board (ARB). 45 charged the maximum £9250 tuition fees in the academic year 2017/18. LSA tuition fees in 2017/18 were £6000.

[2] Strike, T. (2015) Improving Access to Postgraduate Study in England

[3] http://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/programmes/building-futures/

[4] https://www.architecturefoundation.org.uk/events/architecture-for-all-premiere-and-panel-discussion

[5] These are: Proactive – able to anticipate future obstacles and desires and develop effective spatial strategies in response to them; resourceful – exploiting the city as campus by forging connections, overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities; mature – developing the awareness of your duties in the scholarly, professional, urban and global spheres of your work; experimental – having a genuine desire to take risks, to create work that is testing something, and not to be afraid of the results; intrepid – being fearless, daring and bold in your actions as a designer, thinker and operator; being comfortable with ambiguity.

[6] These are: Propositional – because it is too easy just to critique: what are you as an architect going to do about it?; relevant – because we’d rather ask the right and difficult questions, than come up with the answer to the wrong and easy ones; innovative – because we have a curiosity and restlessness about how architectural culture and production can evolve; metropolitan – because we are immersed in the critical mass and mess of a complex and conflicted world city; entrepreneurial – because we constantly seek new ways of operating and are open to ideas from outside architecture.

[7] For the period 2009-2016, the Stephen Lawrence Trust looked at RIBA educational statistics and took an average percentage of those studying at Part I and Part II. For Part I studies these data revealed 28% of students with BME backgrounds and 72% identifying as White/White Other. The data for Part II students was 19% BME backgrounds and 81% White/White other. Further analysis showed that Black and Black British Students made up just 6.25% of those studying at Part I and 3.07% at Part II.

 Value for Money

The LSA passionately believes in delivering Value for Money (VFM), which is the achievement of economy, efficiency and effectiveness in how the school acquires and uses its resources in order to meet its objectives. The LSA has a statutory responsibility to ensure that we achieve Value for Money in its use of public funds.

We also have a responsibility to all our stakeholders (students, staff and external customers and partners) to ensure that we use resources in the best way possible to achieve our objectives. This responsibility extends beyond the use of public funds encompassing all sources of funding.

We strongly uphold the principle of Value for Money: ‘Spending less, spending well, and spending wisely’.

If you would like more information on how we use resources, you can see our audited accounts, which are published here: 2015; 2016; 2017. Our 2018 financial year has been extended to complete on 31 June 2019, so that it aligns with the academic year. These accounts will be published in due course.

Refunds and Compensation Policy

This regulation does not apply should a student exercise their statutory right to cancel their enrolment within 14 days, in which case no fees or charges will apply and any monies paid will be refunded.

1. There is no general entitlement to a refund of tuition fees once a student has started their course, except in the case of overpayment or receipt of sponsorship after payment of the fees by the student. Refunds for other reasons will only be made in specific circumstances as set out below.

2. Where a fee (or prepayment) refund is agreed it will be made payable to the individual or organisation that originally paid the fees (or prepayment, as applicable) within 14 days of the refund being approved by the LSA. For example:

a) where a student’s fees are paid by the SLC, as part of a tuition fee loan or grant, any refund will be made to the SLC;

b) where a student’s fees are paid by the student, any refund will be made to their verified bank account; and

c) if a student’s fees are paid by their employer or another third party, any refund will be made to the verified bank account of the employer or third party that originally paid the fees.
..

Early withdrawals within first three weeks of the start of the course

3. Where a student withdraws from their course during the first three weeks of the first year of study the LSA will waive any tuition or associated fee liability (including any prepaid tuition fees) relating to attendance on that course.

Further information in relation to such withdrawals is provided as follows:

a) This applies to students starting a new course only, and so students starting the second or third year of a course are not covered by this Policy.

b)Direct entrants to the second or third year of a course are included

c) This applies to all categories of student: Home, EU and Overseas.

d) The three-week period starts from the formal start date of the course and not from the date of enrolment. Where a student joins a course after the normal course start date the three-week period starts from the date upon which the student starts attending the course.

e)If a student does not complete the formal enrolment process until after starting to attend a course the three-week period starts from the point of first attendance on the course, not the enrolment date.

g)This policy only covers students who start their course and then withdraw from the course. It does not affect the existing requirement for students to pay their tuition fees in full (or provide evidence of sponsorship) on or by enrolment, and it does not in any way sanction an extended deadline for the payment of fees.

 

Withdrawal after three weeks of course

4. It is currently LSA policy for a student who withdraws three weeks or more after starting their course to be liable for the full year’s fee, except, in specified circumstances as set out below:

a) Where a student with an undergraduate SLC tuition fee loan withdraws from their course, the LSA will only receive the relevant proportion of the SLC fee loan triggered by the student’s attendance on the specified census date(s). For example the LSA will only receive the Spring term fees payment if the student is continuing to attend during that term. The fee liability of an undergraduate SLC-sponsored student who withdraws from their course will therefore be restricted to the amount of fee payable by the SLC, and the student will not be liable to pay the balance of the course fee not met by the SLC.
b) Where an Overseas student is prevented from continuing on a course due to refusal of their visa application. In these circumstances the tuition fees paid by the student (including deposit) for the relevant academic year are refunded in full, irrespective of the amount of time already spent on the course by the student. Evidence of the visa refusal must be provided and the refund request must be signed off by the Registrar.
c) Where a student is prevented from continuing on a course due to medical or other exceptional reasons outside their reasonable control. Any such refund request must be supported by such evidence as may be reasonably requested by the school, and the LSA will have discretion to decide each case based on the individual circumstances.
d) Where a curriculum-related student complaint against the LSA has been upheld, then you may submit a refund request to the Registrar for consideration.
e) In the tragic event of the death of a current student there is an entitlement to a full refund of any tuition fees paid by the student for the academic year in question. The normal requirement to produce evidence will be waived where it would be inappropriate in the school’s reasonable opinion.
f) Where a student withdraws from a course at a recognised exit point, then their fee liability will be restricted to the relevant proportion of the overall course fee. Where this results in an overpayment on the part of the student then a refund of that overpayment will be payable to the student.

 

5. Where a student’s fees are being paid partly through a SLC loan and partly through up-front payment then only the element of the fees paid through a SLC loan will be covered by paragraph 4a above.

 

6. Anyone not covered by these exceptions will continue to be liable for the full fee if they withdraw from their course.

 

Circumstances where compensation may be payable

7. In the unlikely event that the LSA was not able to preserve continuation of study, the payment of compensation for tuition and maintenance costs will be considered. Each application will be considered on a case by case basis and the factors which will be considered include:

  • The course of study and circumstances for non-continuation
  • Any mitigation that the LSA has put in place
  • Tuition fees and maintenance costs of any study which has to be repeated
  • Any additional tuition fees or maintenance costs as a result of transferring
  • Any additional travel costs incurred as a result of changing location
  • Relocation costs
  • Any distress and inconvenience that has been caused by the LSA

8. Applications for compensation should be made to the Registrar. They should contain as much information as possible and the basis for any estimates of costs should be clearly set out. Claims will be considered within 28 days and the outcome will be communicated to each applicant in writing.

9. Where a student is dissatisfied with the LSA’s assessment of their claim for compensation they should challenge the basis for the assessment by contacting the Registrar. If dissatisfied with the outcome the student should invoke the LSA complaints procedure, which is set out in the Institutional Handbook.