Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thinking aloud

In the latest issue of INTERSECTION, I shared some thoughts about the state of our profession body in relation to young graduates and architecture students, to stay relevant or risk being sidelined in the minds of the next generation of Malaysian architects.

Recognition and Relevance
As part of the Liberalisation of Professional Services, the Architects Act 1967 has been amended so that non architects may own up to 30% equity in architectural practices. Non architects mean just that - a group not limited to our colleagues in the building industry such as the engineers and surveyors, but everyone - developers, politicians, businessmen and graduate architects as well.  
This Act has taken effect after it was gazetted on 1st of June 2015.

The fact that PAM does not agree with these amendments means little. Our President has raised the matter with LAM and the Minister of Works, who clarified that the amendments have been passed and cannot be revoked. PAM will address the matter administratively by making amendments to the Architects Rules, and to that end, a Joint LAM-PAM Committee has been set up to draft the Rules.
But one hears the fading sound of hoof beats as the barn door is slammed shut. 

To be positive, one would imagine that the Liberalisation of our profession can be viewed as a healthy move:
1. More foreign competition means that local architects will have beef up their services to get commissions; resulting in better quality of architecture.
2. Foreign firms bring in specialist knowledge; collaborating with them improves our own skill-set.

However, these situations apply usually to larger and specialised projects; universities, hospitals, airports, and not to medium sized projects such as housing and schools, for example. Not all 'imported' architects are of the same calibre; it would be interesting to see how PAM is able to differentiate the masterful from the mediocre using the amended Architect Rules. One hopes that it works, because we have our fair share of mediocre architects already, we do not need imported ones.

In a recent dialogue between PAMSC and PAM President, the key problems facing our professional development and architectural education were highlighted though not discussed in detail. They are summarised here: my comments are shown in italics
1. The declining quality of professional service - many new graduates are opting to work overseas; those from overseas universities are staying on to work, while many local graduates leave to work in Singapore and Australia. This makes it difficult for local practices to groom their second tier; to inject fresh ideas, help with work load and continuity. It is little wonder why the quality of service deteriorates.
2. Low Passing Rate for PAM-LAM Part 3 Exam of between 6-20% - there should be a review of this system of examining the candidates. Perhaps longer time for each exam paper or shorter papers over more sessions. It should not be a test of speed, because that is not what happens in practice. In Singapore, there is an option for candidates to submit a report detailing 5 years of relevant work. We are all cut from different cloth, and there are many forms of practice - there should be more than one way to evaluate the candidates.
3.  Quality of graduates not meeting industry expectations - there are some architecture colleges that use 40% as a passing mark. When benchmarks are lowered this way, it is little wonder that quality of graduates is poor. In Tong Hai University in Taiwan, the prerequisite mark to progress to the next semester is 60. But let's not put the burden on the schools only, practitioners can get involved in school curriculum - as external examiners or by offering internship and training.
4. Architecture is not a popular career choice amongst secondary students -this point comes as a surprise to me, because I understand from my colleagues in academia that intake is still very good. "...why we have two intakes each year!..".
It is quite clear that the above issues are inter-related, so one wonders if this next issue discussed at the dialogue is related as well.

From January 2017, LAM will revoke the automatic recognition of overseas architecture programmes. This means that only degrees from local architecture schools will be recognised. Architecture schools can apply for their programmes to be accredited, whereupon LAM will send representatives to that university to 'validate' the accreditation. We were told that the applying university will bear the cost of this process.

The new Manual of Accreditation for Architecture Programme is available from LAM, but one wonders what the logic for this decision is?  Does LAM think that foreign graduates are lowering the quality of our services? If so, surely LAM can continue to vet and interview them for their eligibility to sit for the Part 3 exams. Is it not simpler to recognise the list of accredited schools in the countries where LAM-PAM has reciprocal relationships?
In any case, all this may amount to nothing.
We all know that the quality of graduate architects are largely assessed based on the strength of their school portfolio and not the school’s degree. So, graduates from non-recognised schools (some of whom are there on government scholarship) will continue to get work where ever they choose. And by not recognizing their qualifications, LAM-PAM simply makes itself less relevant to their graduates. 
With so many hurdles to surmount in order to be registered, it might well be easier for them to buy a 30% stake-hold in an architectural practice.

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