The mathematics behind an architecture degree in UCD: 3 + 1 + 1

The Bachelor of Architecture in UCD is currently in a state of change. It is transitioning from a three year bachelor’s degree followed by a two year master’s degree, to a four year bachelor’s degree adjoined to a one year master’s degree. Having come as a surprise to all students enrolled in Richview, many are still unsure of how this transition will affect them. In conversation with Hugh Campbell, the Dean of Architecture, we discuss why the programme is being altered and the effect such a change will have on studying architecture in UCD.

As it stands, the first three years studying architecture are dedicated to the acquisition of competences. As an architect, there is a whole composition of competences you are expected to be comfortable with. The fourth year, which was up until this year part of the master’s degree only, is split in two parts. One semester is dedicated to professional practice, an “office-based design experience, [understanding] all the parameters you have got to meet and understand in a real piece of design” as Campbell put it. The second is more focused on society and the architect’s role within it. Students can opt to go on erasmus and experience a new education system, “another set of architectural philosophies”, or stay at home and work in a community.

A project undertaken a few years ago saw students work with the Peter McVerry trust, tackling homelessness. Fifth year will remain as it is with student’s focusing on a design thesis and dissertation. When asked why the fourth year was being tacked-on to the undergraduate, Campbell responded; “we would like our undergraduates to have those experiences, and that is the motivation for extending and enriching – giving those experiences to everybody, irrespective if they then continue on with the programme or not. We can’t do it within the three years, it would be just too tight.”

Although initially it was penned as a four-year-plus-one degree, perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it a three-plus-one-plus-one. It is three distinct stages with opportunities for a gap, or a degree, between either the first or second phase. After the first stage, the student will receive a Bachelor of Science in Architecture. If the student chooses to take a four year bachelor’s degree they will qualify with a Bachelor of Architecture. However, upon counting those credits towards a four-year bachelor's, the student may not put the credits towards a master’s degree in UCD. Finally after fifth year, the student will receive a Master of Architecture, accredited by RIAI, RIBA, and NAAB – the architectural accreditation for Ireland, Britain and the United States respectively.

Many entered the architecture degree on the understanding that after the third year they would be taking a gap year or two before deciding where to pursue a master’s degree. With this new system in place, students have many more options open to them than expected upon enrolling. Most pressingly, the students in third year not only had to decide whether or not to take the fourth year, but if they would like take an Erasmus and, following that, think about if they will study a master’s in UCD – all within two weeks at the beginning of semester two. Even though the new layout of the architecture degree appears very positive, the students who are going through the programme as it transitions are somewhat in limbo.

Although one decision does not automatically imply the other, the idea of studying 60 extra credits before having to take a two year master’s in another university was not universally appealing. The unknown that exists at the moment is, as Campbell put it, “what currency does the four year degree have outside of here?” There is nothing to guarantee the students who opted to study a year of a master’s programme here that they will be allowed to count those credits towards a degree in a different university.

A notable benefit to those who chose to take the four year bachelor’s degree, is the ability to count one year of credits towards a master’s degree. Rather than paying for a two-year master’s, which is €7,830 a year, the student will only have to pay the (notionally free) fees. The students who are currently in fourth year have been reimbursed and talks are underway as to whether or not the fifth year students will also have the fees they paid for their first year of the masters programme returned. Although it hasn’t been overtly discussed by the school, it is understood that the university receives more money per capita for bachelor students than it does for masters students. Not only does a bachelor student pay the “free” fees but the college is also heavily subsidized by the programmes such as SUSI by the Higher Education Authority (HEA). This in turn will benefit the students as there will be more funds available for the facilities and tuition.

The architecture degree in Ireland has always been seen as a five year degree. If one accepts this to be true the degree itself will not be changing, just the parameters which divide it; “the path to the profession is to take five years full time education and then two years in experience and a part three as it’s called, ‘professional diploma’, and then after that you can register as an architect.”

In DIT, our neighboring architecture school, students enroll for five years from the beginning. In a sense, no options have been removed for students, only more choice added. The advice given was; “just keep going up until year four unless you are clear at year three you want to leave. Once you have decided if you want to do the master’s degree in UCD that is the key point. You can choose whether or not to take the three year degree and keep the content so that I can use it to set against year one of the master’s. That’s when the decision is made. That’s why we couldn’t add on to three. We had to make a new four. Year four is about enriching and extending the experience.”