The Education Series: Alternative education institutions and course entry

    Tim Waterman, Senior lecturer in Landscape Architecture, Writtle School of Design, suggests creating more ways for students to transfer into landscape architecture to raise the number of students entering.

    Do you think landscape architecture education institutes are in crisis? Why?

    “Landscape architectural education is certainly in crisis. Almost universally now, institutions of higher education are governed and managed by people who are trained in business and bureaucracy, but who have little understanding of the actual work of education, and who are more interested in the branding and marketing of the ‘student experience,’ particularly to international students, who are cash cows. Thus climbing walls, well-equipped gyms, and sparkling buildings for business programmes are far more important than teaching and learning. Research, even in the top institutions, is also a lesser concern now.

    We, in landscape, often complain that no one understands what we do, but I think all of the architectures and design are all under equivalent threats. We’re just smaller, and have fewer programmes, so we are more vulnerable.

    Do you have any facts or figures to support your view?

    My views here are based upon analysis of my experience of British higher education and can't really be expressed in quantitative terms.

    Why do you think landscape architecture struggles to recruit more students into their courses?

    Because we are such a small profession, our visibility is necessarily small. We also tend to attract students who are looking for a second career. A good landscape architect is often a person who has good life experience, who is worldly, so this makes sense. We need to appeal more to students’ basic instincts to do good, be creative, and to make the world a better place rather than trying to explain what we do.

    What do you think can be done to recruit more students into landscape architecture education?

    Creating more ways for students to transfer into landscape architecture from other design professions (or indeed other disciplines such as biology or geology or sociology) during their study would be useful. This would require radical changes to the way we conceive of higher education in the UK, however. We might need to think about a foundation year with a cross-cutting liberal arts curriculum, for example. This might mean a four-year undergraduate education instead of a three-year. We might need to allow students to study at more than one institution at once. We also need to make higher education cheap or free again in order to encourage students to linger in education until they discover their heart’s desire. Why do we need to educate students quickly?

    What do you think is the future of landscape architecture education?

    Because so much restructuring of the basic education experience would be required to make higher education effective again in the UK, and because our higher education institutions have already been so seriously vandalised by austerity politics and neoliberalism, I think that the future of landscape architecture education will be in newly created institutions, ‘alternative educational institutions’, that seek to step entirely outside of the current structure of higher education. These institutions will probably be private and/or cooperative, and managed and operated by students and teachers.

    What are alternative educational institutions, and what role do you think they have in the future of landscape architecture education?

    It can be pretty difficult to imagine an 'alternative educational institution' in the UK because so much work has been done for decades to make sure that all institutions are on a par with one another, and because almost all higher education has been free and public. When there were no fees and when everything seemed to be working fairly well there wasn't much reason to question whether an alternative was necessary.

    It's also difficult to imagine what alternative institutions might look like, but there are wonderful models from the past such as the Bauhaus or Black Mountain College that might provide some cues. Their design would need to be based upon two foundational principles: 1. a minimisation of bureaucracy in favour of teaching, learning and research; and 2. a focus on education for the furtherance of human flourishing, which includes the pursuit of happiness, sustainability, and democratic citizenship. Schools might be run entirely by students and lecturers so that any money spent on education goes directly into staffing, facilities, or maintenance. Schools might share buildings with other institutions. Schools might not have buildings at all. Schools might choose to opt out of all accreditation and review, and all systems of individual and institutional assessment or ranking. These are all only possibilities, and I would hate for it to sound like a prescription. There is much room for imagination in the creation of new institutions. 

    This blog is part of a wider series exploring the future of landscape architecture education. The series will post 1-2 blogs per week, exploring the ideas of students, academics, practitioners and the LI's new approach to student recruitment. Keep an eye out for new posts with #LIBlog on @TalkLandscape. The series expands on the article 'Responding to the crisis in landscape education', in the current issue of the Landscape Journal.

    To join the Education conversation, visit Talking Landscape Education discussions. Also, encourage prospective landscape architects to visit Be A Landscape Architect, a new website promoting the profession.

    – Image of landscape architecture students by David Silver on Flickr. Published under the creative commons licence.


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