Dezeen Magazine

Quarter of UK architecture students report mental health issues

More than a quarter of architecture students in the UK have reported mental health issues related to their studies, with workload and debt among the leading causes, according to a new survey.

Twenty-six per cent of respondents to a Student Survey by British magazine The Architects' Journal (AJ) said they were being treated or had been treated for mental health issues related to their course.

Another 26 per cent said they thought they would need to seek professional help in the future.

Altogether, more than half of the students who responded reported concerns about mental health related to their course.

The problem was more acute with female respondents, of whom almost a third had sought support for mental health issues compared to 26 per cent of male respondents.

Nearly 450 UK-based students responded to the survey according to the magazine, which ran the questionnaire through its website.

The AJ said that some respondents had reported stress-related hair loss, and quoted one as saying "architecture has had a detrimental affect on my mental and physical health". "A culture of suffering for your art is promoted within education" said another.

Many of the respondents who had suffered from mental health issues said that being expected to work long hours had contributed to the problem. The survey found that almost one in three students were working through the night on a regular basis as part of their studies.

Others cited concerns around money, and 38 per cent of students who responded to the survey said they expected to incur debts of between £30,000 and £50,000 during their studies.

One in 10 said they thought they would owe more than £70,000 by the time they qualified, and two-fifths believed they would never be able to repay their loan.

Under the current system, students in the UK study for at least seven years to qualify as an architect – longer than most other professions. A bill that would allow universities to raise their fees above the current cap of £9,000 per year is currently passing through parliament and could see debts increase significantly.

"High fees, debt, the fear of debt, low wages, poor working practices and educational models that reflect aspects of practice based on individualism and competition rather than collective action and mutual support have put intolerable pressure on those students who can still study and has excluded many more," said Robert Mull, former architecture director and dean of London's Cass school.

"The situation is shocking and getting worse," he told Dezeen. "We in education, practice and the professional bodies need to act now to address this. And we all need to lobby government for changes to funding."

Anthony Seldon, who is vice-chancellor at the University of Buckingham and a mental health campaigner, told the AJ that the UK was experiencing a "near epidemic of mental health problems among its students".

"Those studying architecture appear to be under added burdens emanating perhaps from the very length of the course and time taken before earning a proper income," he said.

"Much could be done to rethink the courses so they align with the architectural education needs of the future rather than the dictates of the architectural big cheeses of the past."

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) president Jane Duncan said students should apply for funds set up by the RIBA in response to the increasing financial pressure on students and urged those suffering from mental health problems to seek help.

"I am concerned that the combination of tuition fees, rising student debt and the necessity for many students to take on paid work outside study can trigger or exacerbate mental health problems," she said.

"Long hours, a heavy workload compared to some other courses and intense design scrutiny have long been part of the culture of architectural education, but can add extra pressures. Our schools of architecture must continue to take the initiative to upskill students in managing their most valuable resource – their time."

The survey also found widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of the education students felt they were receiving. More than 60 per cent said they felt their studies went on for too long, 35 per cent felt their course was either "poor" or "very poor" value for money, and 35 per cent said they felt that their studies did not equip them for practice.

A third of the students who responded said that they had also been asked to work for free by architecture studios.

The results come after leading industry figures at Dezeen's Brexit design summit called on the government to improve the "f*cked" education system.

The group, which included architects and designers like Amanda Levete and Benjamin Hubert, said that the UK's design education was "very weak" and studios would continue to rely on overseas talent unless the government invests in schools.