The UNESCO-UIA Validation System for Architectural Schools as an Instrument of Quality in Education

Deniz Incedayi and Nuno Soares
Co-Directors, UNESCO-UIA Validation Board

Today, architectural education is of utmost importance in responding effectively to global challenges such as climate change, inequality and urban migration. Different educational approaches and policies can be found across the world, with social and cultural values as well as traditions and local characteristics exercising a major influence on the scope of content covered by schools. On the other hand, the need to establish a general framework encompassing the architect’s role and major responsibilities in the design process places the study of systems of accreditation and the validation of educational institutions on today’s agenda.

I. Short History of the UNESCO-UIA Validation System

The UNESCO-UIA Charter for Architectural Education was first approved by the Barcelona General Assembly in 1996. Due to the dynamic character of educational processes and professional practice, the Charter has been periodically revised by the UNESCO-UIA Validation Committee throughout the years. The text has always maintained the importance of holistic, multidisciplinary understanding and knowledge in design, but has moulded its recommended teaching methods and syllabus prescriptions to incorporate modern technological advances as well as contemporary social and cultural needs, global challenges and local considerations. Its aim can be described as to ensure that schools of architecture provide high-quality training and meet the needs of today’s profession. The Preamble of the revised edition of the Charter (2011) says: “There is no doubt that the architect’s capacity to solve problems, can greatly contribute to tasks such as community development, self-help programmes, educational facilities, etc., and thus make a significant contribution to the improvement of the quality of life of those who are not accepted as citizens in their full right and who cannot be counted among the architect’s usual clients.”

In line with the UNESCO-UIA Charter for Architectural Education, the UNESCO-UIA Validation System has been formulated to validate programmes that wish to be recognised for their adherence to the UNESCO-UIA Charter for Architectural Education. As is explained in the revised edition of the “Procedures Manual for Study Programmes and Systems” (2023), the System focuses on framing the content of the programme’s syllabus, examining its features and study approaches, and analysing its concrete outcomes and results. Besides the academic detail of the educational programmes under examination, it also takes into account the school’s facilities, its staff and its students.

II. The UNESCO-UIA Validation System Supports Diversity and Variation

As is well known, student and staff mobility is prized by architectural institutions across the world. Validation of schools of architecture thus represents a tool facilitating mutual agreements between the different programmes. It is important to point out that the validation process for architectural study programmes certainly does not have the intention of homogenising them. On the contrary, the UIA-UNESCO Charter for Architectural Education has the mission of supporting the values and traditions of schools of architecture across the globe. It can be seen as a guide to achieving quality critical review and good outcomes, to improving the opportunities offered by the institution and the understanding of the those working within it by encouraging a holistic perspective. The fundamental objectives of architectural education are summarised into 16 points by the Charter, in which feature the importance of greater diversity in professional practice and, consequently, in architectural education and training. The accreditation system also examines the institution and related study programme’s self-evaluation processes.

After a long term of research and debates by experts in the field, today the validation process and its designated Board have the task of evaluating educational outcomes whilst underlining the importance of cultural and social diversity, local values and possibilities, and sustainable living environments. The aim is to support a constructive and creative external review of the programme, promoting a healthy and equal built environment for all.

III. The Benefits of UNESCO-UIA Validation for Architectural Schools

The world is experiencing rapid changes as well as new opportunities and developments in technology, tools and communication. As a matter of fact, these advances bring new items onto the architectural and educational agendas. In comparison with the recent past, today many educational and research institutions construct their systems with global mobility and exchange opportunities in mind. There is no doubt that the aforementioned mentioned tools and resources benefit the scope of architectural education, granting it new perspectives. Architectural education can even be considered as a platform that is enriched and activated by international communication and mobility. At this juncture, international validation systems bring valuable gains to the progress of study programmes competing globally. The feedback from schools that have experienced the UNESCO-UIA Validation process testify to its benefits, which can be briefly summarised as follows:

  • Support with international connections and communication
  • International visibility
  • An opportunity for self-evaluation
  • Proposals for improvements
  • Continuity in development and self-scrutiny
  • Advantages in global mobility, mutual agreements and partnerships
  • Convenience for students in their postgraduate studies, etc.

The satisfaction of schools of architecture validated by the UNESCO-UIA System can be seen in their choice to be re-validated and also in the documents prepared on their experiences of UNESCO-UIA validation.

A valuable instrument

As is explained on its official website, the UIA is a federation of national professional organisations (unions and chambers) working to unify architects, influence public policies and advance architecture in service to the needs of society. Today, the UIA is represented by its Member Sections in more than 100 countries and territories across all continents. It is a unique meeting platform for professional organisations and has a global responsibility for the profession and its education systems. Its main goals are, unsurprisingly, to improve the quality of life of people, to create healthy and liveable environments, and to promote an architectural understanding based on equality and the public interest that embraces accessibility, the city and human rights for all.

In line with the UIA’s important responsibilities, the UNESCO-UIA Validation System for Architectural Education is a valuable instrument in preserving the quality of educational institutions, especially considering the rising number of schools worldwide.

Moreover, the validation system can be seen as a significant tool for international solidarity, dialogue and communication between study programmes worldwide.