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The move comes as part of a package of measures proposed as SOFAA prepares to draft a new constitution that will encompass opening its doors to valuers and individual members as well as existing corporate members.

Chairman Christopher Ewbank said the Society had decided to publicise the review of its direction and purpose at an early stage “because of the uncertainty created by the RICS’s new education policies as recently published in the trade press”.

“Education and training are the foundation for any profession and the loss of these long established full-time degree and distance learning courses, with their extensive research facilities, would be tragic,” said Mr Ewbank. “We aim to create a new class of individual membership and adopt clear entry routes for graduates and mature entrants into the profession, in partnership with the Southampton Institute.”

Mr Ewbank believes that SOFAA has the advantage over the RICS because it is devoted entirely to the auction business and does not have to fit in with the demands of other faculties or an umbrella body, as the RICS fine arts faculty does.

If voted through, valuer members will be able to display the SOFAA logo and associate members will be able to style themselves FSOFAA or similar. The chairman of the Antiques and Fine Arts faculty of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Jonathan Meyer, had earlier pointed out in a letter to the Antiques Trade Gazette (Issue No 1535, April 20), that the RICS would continue to accredit the Southampton courses until 2008 and would “support the Institute and help to create a situation that enables accreditation and future partnership to be achieved”. He added that the faculty was also looking at creating further courses across the country.

Difficulties arose at the RICS after the education committee of the RICS’s main board ruled that courses accredited by the antiques and fine arts faculty, such as those at Southampton, would have to meet the same points-based criteria linked to A Level results as courses accredited by other faculties such as chartered surveying. This did not take into account mature student entry and other advantages, such as trade experience and knowledge, with the fine arts faculty opposing the education committee on these grounds.

Mr Ewbank said that the process of redrafting the SOFAA constitution would take some months and the proposals would be subject to the approval of the Society’s members, but he was confident that they would look at them positively.

Hilary Ghey, the course programme leader at the Southampton Institute, said: “We welcome the position being adopted by SOFAA, who are highly respected throughout the profession. We are in detailed discussions with them regarding their proposed recognition of our BA Fine Arts Valuation degree.

Mr Ewbank confirmed that the draft review of the constitution could take SOFAA to a new level where it would replace the RICS as the recognised arbiter of standards for fine art valuation and auctions.