Architectural body fears that charges for five-year degree will freeze out all but the affluent from the profession.

The architectural profession will become the preserve of affluent, white, middle-class students unless the government takes action over top-up fees, according to the RIBA.

The architects’ professional body has been lobbying the government over the issue, arguing that it must make some allowance for architecture students who will have to pay the tuition fees for five years rather than three.

The RIBA wants the fourth and fifth years of degrees to be exempt from the top-up fees, which are likely to be at least £3000 a year. They will come into force for students starting courses in autumn 2006. This year fees are capped at £1150.

But the Whitehall study into the problem, the Langlands Review, is likely to ignore these calls when it reports back next month.

One insider said: “The review will suggest measures to reduce the impact of top-up fees, like ‘golden hellos’ from employers. This would be fine for accountancy, but architecture is made up of small firms that cannot match that kind of generosity. This may not impact on numbers, but it’s about whether we can sustain the diversity in architecture. What we fear is the profession reverting to a white, middle-class basis.”

The problem has arisen just months after the Cambridge University architecture department narrowly avoided closure.

It also comes at a time when plans to change architectural education could mean students will have to sit a costlier master’s degree to complete their studies. In the wake of Cambridge’s near-miss, heads of architecture at the elite Russell Group of universities are looking to change the five-year undergraduate degree into a three-year programme followed by a year in practice, and then a one-year master’s degree.

As a master’s degree is more expensive, this would bring in more money for universities. It would also accord with a EU directive agreed last year to make architecture degrees more flexible. However, it could create a “two-tier” system in which only more affluent students could afford to go to the more expensive schools.