Can I find part-time work as an accountant? Do architecture courses focus on environment?

Work-life balance

Q. I am a mother in my thirties. I moved to Yorkshire a few months ago. I am a qualified chartered accountant, with experience in major firms and a degree from Oxford. Despite a good CV, I am struggling to find any work that is less than 45-plus hours a week, plus travel. Recruitment consultants say it is rare to find part-time positions. I am close to believing I will have to change fields to get some kind of work-life balance.

A. It seems you are not alone. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) recently funded a research project looking at flexible working in accountancy firms. It showed there was huge demand from men and women for more flexibility - and that many were leaving the profession because of the long-hours culture.

Flexibility doesn't, of course, mean a reduction in hours, although this might be one of many options. What the ICAEW says is that where these options do exist, companies often don't promote them, so employees can be unaware they're a possibility.Firms should be questioned directly about what's on offer - probably the smaller ones, as they were shown by the research to be more supportive - rather than relying on recruitment consultants.

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy says public sector organisations are looking for qualified accountants. Public bodies tend to have a rather better view on work-life balance, offering job sharing and part-time or flexible working. Salaries may be less than you have been used to, but you would be in line for a five-week holiday and a final salary pension. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants says it's common practice among smaller firms to sub-contract work on a part-time basis, particularly in specialist areas. It says that any accountant who does this well is likely to be inundated with work. The key issue would be whether you could persuade a number of firms to employ you in this way, so you can build up a good income.

Green designs

Q. I am in the sixth form and hoping to be an architect. I would be interested in doing work that is environmentally friendly - how do I find out about university courses that emphasise this sort of thing?

A. Since 1991, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) says it has required all schools of architecture to make sure sustainability issues are incorporated in courses. And in most, there are opportunities, once you get into the final stages, to pursue your particular interests. But a number of new programmes have been developed with a particular focus on this area - the new BSc architecture and environmental design course at Sheffield Hallam and the MEng architecture and environmental design programme at Nottingham, for example.

Also, a number of longstanding courses, like those at Oxford Brookes and Plymouth, put a substantial emphasis on sustainability. The approach to teaching architecture differs quite a lot from school to school. One way in which you can get a sense of the particular interests and strengths of differing approaches is to look up the reports of RIBA visiting boards, which are now published in full. Visiting boards are teams which visit each school to check that what is being taught conforms with RIBA criteria and that standards are up to scratch - their reports have a clear statement about a school's character, strengths and weaknesses. To see them, go to click on "Education", then "Validation".

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020 7005 2143; or e-mail to