In their latest Dazed column, art agony aunts Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammed share their thoughts on the state of higher education
Anonymous: Today our Fine Art department at uni has been denied access to facilities that has always been and should be provided for us. It was a part of our course, and is especially used as a selling point on open days, even up to today. The uni didn’t notify us artists about this change and it is deeply affecting some students’ practice. What do you do if your uni isn’t doing what you were promised?
The White Pube: i was so excited to write an answer to this query because I am a little bastard Capricorn-moon strategic fighter queen. i’m emotional and smart about it. And in terms of my qualifications, Final Fantasy Tactics on Gameboy Advance circa 2004 set me up well for thinking 5 steps ahead when it comes to conflict of any kind. More to the point, I had a love-hate relationship with my uni as well so I’m about to sympathise with you DEEPLY. Let me just first complain about this mess of a subject while I have the mic.
Students on Fine Art courses in the UK are now paying £9,250 per year for 3-4 years of an often bitty education. A mix of good and very boring lectures, u gamble with the staff and peers you’ll have to put up with. Some tutors will be amazing but even they are stressed / stretched. On both BA and MA courses, there’s poor guidance when it comes to professional development; facilities are either useful but booked up, or ur not even allowed to use them. There may be some decent visiting tutors but u’ll have to race to sign up for em. And then you end with an awkward degree show and are kicked out the nest, jobless and no studio 2
boot. I have heard tutors try to defend the lack of structure in art courses as time for students to have a go of it ! make of it what they will ! spend time cooking in the studio oven til they r ready to emerge. On my first day, Central Saint Martins set us an objective and laughed when we all asked for a piece of paper to get started. We were told time and time again that any challenges we came up against were going to teach us how to get on with it in the real world, but i don’t need to pay 9 grand a year to learn how to get a bus to Ryman’s for some stationary. Charge us 2 years and admit the 3rd one should be free.
Maybe once upon a time art school really was a weirdly powerful place where artists were born and others pissed about and became musicians instead, but students are now simply customers operating inside big businesses that don’t care about some promise of creativity. but if you’re racking up 27K in course fees, you deserve the very best. You deserve to look as happy as the brunette on the cover of your university’s prospectus; u deserve to feel as put together as that fucking 300DPI 9 million gsm prospectus paper quality. But if something is in your way, there’s a scale to consider when it comes to kicking off, from lil foot taps to drop kicks with heels on.
In this case, i think you have to quickly organise a meeting with the course leader if possible – and if they’re not about, get in front of the tutors you’re closest to. Speak reasonably but speak with urgency; they bessst had understand the position you’re in with such limited time to access facilities like this for free (it might be the biggest thing you miss once you graduate, depending on the typa art u make). Unless they act rude with u, speak 2 them on a level. In this business system, your tutors are the face of a much bigger thing that they’re not even in control of. they’re the customer service equivalent and being rude to service staff is not fair.
If meeting with these immediate people doesn’t make so much as a dent, get on your course’s Facebook group (everyone has one don’t they?) with a clearly articulated statement demanding what you want and ask the year or entire course to edit it with you and eventually co-sign. then, you send this statement with full list of names attached to your course leader’s inbox but add some spicy CCs. Find email addies for the Programme Director, Dean, Associate Deans, head or vice chancellor etc etc all them good titles. The CCing will put pressure on your course leader to get down to action ASAP, and the co-signing will spread the demand across the entire student cohort so its not all on the you, the spokesperson. I know the preferred process for input like this is to go to your student representatives but I was one of those for 4 years and I can’t recall one thing we got changed. i am suspish that those student rep meetings were performative educational bureaucracy to SLOW US DOWN. we see u, SYSTEMS. though having said that, I know that last month a major london art school tried to cut the MA degree show down from 10 to 4 days, and the student reps got it sorted v quickly so maybe there’s suttin to it.
if this does nothing, and you NEED those facilities, like degree show is coming up and you gotta get in there to finish what you started, get in touch with your student union. that’s what they’re there for. Print posters and put them up all over the place. if it’s life or death and you’re physically available for it, do a sit in. Invoice the university for a part-refund on the total price of the course. do it publicly lol. threaten to protest on open days so prospective students know to turn the fuck around. Ask yourself how much can you afford to poke the bear, and speak to the SU to make sure any action you take doesn’t put you at risk of expulsion ! dramatiq.
if tutors ever get iffy just remind them it’s not personal, this is about the larger problem of delivering on what was promised w ur higher education. tell em it’s business baby, as bloody sad as that is :-( good luck!