Thursday, 24 May 2007 13:12

Unique degree programme attracts women in droves

Written by Arthur Okwemba

In an attempt to internationalize their course, the department of architecture at the University of Nairobi has for the first time broken with tradition and started to offer two degrees in a single course, simultaneously.

The two tier-degree course in architecture, as it is now known, is part of the strategy by the department to transform itself into a world class school of architecture.

Under this system, students have an option to graduate at the fourth year, if they do not want to go through the traditional six year duration which architects take.

But graduating after four years will only guarantee a student a bachelors degree in architectural studies; meaning he or she cannot practice as a fully-fledged architect like those who complete the six years.

Those who pursue this new degree are however presented with numerous career choices, which enable them to offer services that have not been part of the industry’s menu.

“We want to build a school of architecture that is going to interest people from Europe and America to come and learn the African experience of architecture,” says Mr Kigara Kamweru, Chairman of department of Architectural and Building Science.

“To achieve this, one of the major things we have had to do is transform our curriculum.”

The university is now encouraging international students and professors from other countries to visit and learn as well offer their architectural experience.

The new degree system has generated a lot of interest, especially among females, who have registered in huge numbers to pursue architecture.

According to Kigara, the number of female students pursuing architecture has increased from 8 percent to about 20 percent. The department has 220 students registered for the course.

“I think the six year duration taken to complete the course before one is awarded with a degree in architecture frightened women. And very few opted for it,” says Kigara.

Sacrificing a person’s social life and giving the course extraordinary commitment tended to put off females students from pursuing the degree.

Those who attempted to give the six years a shot performed much better than their male counterparts in the initial years. But their performance dropped in the final years of the course.

“We suspect the huge societal pressures women face at these final years explains their drop in performance,” say Kigara. The new degree system is expected to solve some of these problems.

The glaring absence of women in the course is strongly reflected not only in the number of students, but in the composition of lecturers as well.  Of the 25 lecturers, none is a woman.

Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings and structures, creating furniture and a sound environment for people to live in. 

It is now hoped the new curriculum may help to improve the participation of women in architecture. A change Kigara, who doubles as a lecturer, thinks this is good for the industry.

“Having male dominate the course has made us miss out on certain details that women are able to see.”

“We believe if we have many women pursuing architecture, then there are aesthetic details they will bring to bear on us,” says Kigara.

Increased number of women is also going to change the perception that the course is only for men. 

But there is a restriction placed on those who do not complete the six year duration: they will only be entitled to a degree in architectural studies at the end of the four years.

This means they cannot be registered by the Kenyan Association of Architectures to practice and identify themselves as architects. Such a privilege is reserved for those who complete the six year training.

Says Kigara: “If those who opt to graduate after four years call themselves architects, and purport to do certain functions which someone who has completed six years can do, then they will be engaging in an illegality.”

The good news is those who graduate after four years will be recognized by the association as being able to offer certain services to the public within their competence.

These include interior design, teaching, construction management, planning, providing expertise knowledge in the field of accounting, insurance, and many others.

{styleboxjp}The overhauling of the curriculum to bring in these new dimensions is part of the department’s wider strategy to transform itself into an international institution as well as generate income to run its programmes after the government asked public universities to be self-sustaining. {/styleboxjp}

A few months ago, lecturers from the department went to visit architectural schools in Egypt and Rome as part of their tactics to interest scholars and students from these countries to learn more about African architecture. 

“Our visits to these countries are to look for partners who can offer services to us and we shall do likewise in what we now call brain circulation,” says Kigara.

The department has also redefined its research to enable them reach not only to the scholars, but to the general public, students, practitioners and policy makers.

 

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