UK buildings are consistently failing to perform. So the UK needs to train architects and engineers with greater technical competence than it is presently doing if we are to address our ever-growing CO2 emissions. So why are there usually no UK students on the Postgraduate MSc Environmental Design and Engineering course in the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies at UCL (also host to the UCL Energy Institute)

The course has been established for over 25 years and is one of the oldest in the United Kingdom. It is interdisciplinary in all its aspects, dealing with environmental issues associated with buildings.

As well as providing a sound training in the fundamentals of environmental design, the course currently deals with today's critical issues of CO2 emissions, pollution from fossil fuel consumed by buildings, and occupant health. Also there is an emphasis on considering the most cost-effective way to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions from buildings.

To be eligible for the course, students can come from various backgrounds, not just architecture. Engineers may come from shorter courses than architects, and overseas students may complete their architecture studies in five years rather than seven in the UK, which might explain the popularity of the course with highly qualified overseas students. In hard economic times, there is a real pressure for students to give up on learning the skills that the country needs for the good of its citizens and economic competitiveness, and to get into work quite quickly. However the skills learnt on this course could I believe give the UK an excellent return on investment, while it is unreasonable to expect a UK architecture student to borrow this much for the good of their country:

Year 1-3                Complete a three year undergraduate Architecture degree (funding required, circa £60,000).

Year 4                    One year of low-paid office training experience to obtain Part 1 of their professional qualifications.

Year 5-6                Two year postgraduate MArch degree (funding required, circa £40,000).  

Year 7                    One year minimum of low-paid office training to be eligible for entering examinations to complete their professional qualifications.

Year 8                    One year postgraduate MSc Environmental Design and Engineering (funding required, circa £15,000 - £20,000)

Year 9                    Already heavily in debt by perhaps £100,000, a student can then choose to remain in debt, with a relatively low income in academic teaching and research, or they can choose to apply their skills in architectural or engineering practice, both notoriously low-paid professions that are too caught up in a struggle to pay salaries than to worry about CO2 emissions from the UK’s notoriously under-performing buildings. Either way, the student who wanted to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem is punished by the UK government for his/her idealism. If the student decided that it would be better to serve their own selfish objectives, he/she might go off and do a 3 year marketing degree and then get a highly paid job that usually contributes nothing positive to reducing CO2 emissions or addressing climate change and other environmental consequences, such as working in the oil or gas industry.

Clearly the reason that there are currently no UK students studying on a course that the UK desperately needs them on, is that no UK student can afford to end up aged around 30yrs, with tens of thousands of pounds of debt (typically one hundred thousand pounds of debt) from university fees and living expenses, with a low paid job at the end of the course and no medium term opportunity to pay off their debt, let alone settle down and start a family.

I would therefore like to float the idea that UK university courses should be given the opportunity to apply for Social and Environmental points and students given the opportunity to apply for Community Benefit Study Scholarships which would be fast-tracked for approved courses, depending upon the student’s own personal circumstances, career plan and prospects.

By this means a mechanism will be produced that provides free education for UK students from ordinary financial backgrounds who do courses such as the MSc Environmental Design and Engineering and the undergraduate and postgraduate years leading up to the MSc. The scheme would also support students of nursing, or other socially responsible courses that have relatively low salary prospects.

The current university fees system does not provide incentives for students to choose advanced training that is ethical and responsible and will provide social and environmental benefits for the wider community. With the application of careful thought, I am sure that a fair system of scholarships can be worked out. It needs to be worked out quick, otherwise the ‘brain drain’ will mean that in a few years there will be no teachers to teach these courses, even to overseas students who can afford to pay.