Glasgow School of Art students to protest Open Day

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Katy Scott
News Editor

Students from the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) will be protesting the GSA Undergraduate Open Day and boycotting their studios this coming Thursday, 26 October.

The students are protesting against the perceived corporatisation of their institution. They cite a lack of communication and have accused the Art School of valuing its “brand more than the education of its students.”

Students have also criticized the annual increase in student numbers and tuition fees without the provision of adequate services, studio spaces or teacher numbers. The GSA is aiming to increase student numbers by 25% in the next two years.

A spokesperson for The Glasgow School of Art said: “We encourage our students to be engaged and we have a number of more formal routes than the one chosen for raising concerns and for working constructively with us in both defining and implementing change which we believe will enhance the student experience.”  

“Our planned growth in student numbers is being met alongside significant strategic investment in our campus, in our staffing and resources, not least the restoration of the Mackintosh Building and the Stow Building as a new home for the School of Fine Art.”

The Glasgow Guardian recently interviewed two protesters about the upcoming strike. The protesters asked to remain anonymous.

What made you decide to take strike action?

“We’ve gone through the formal channels of student representation and [since] there is an overwhelming discontent among students at the school at the moment, we felt that the only way to voice this was to strike. Although, it’s more of a protest: a demonstration of discontent. Today, we did have meetings with senior staff members at the school and I think the idea of the protest is to gain an ear – and it’s working. That channel of communication has opened up much quicker than it might have, going through the formal channels that have taken so long to work.”

Since this is taking place at an Open Day, how do you think the protest will affect prospective students? Do you have a message for them?

“In no way do we want to discourage anyone from coming to the Art School, because the reason we’re annoyed is because we like being here and we know how good it can be. We welcome all of them. The issue is that the school isn’t expanding its resources with increased student numbers.”

“The idea of it is not to discourage students from coming to the school. We want the school to be the hub of creativity and cultural output that it has a reputation for being. But we feel that, at the moment, the management of the school doesn’t allow it to be that. I think it would be unethical for us to not point that out to students who are preparing to spend a lot of money on their education here. It would be wrong of us not to do it.”

So you don’t want to put people off, but you do want to alert them as to what is going on?

“Exactly, we want to raise awareness of an issue. We’ve had a lot of problems in raising that awareness and, at the moment, this is our way of doing it.”

I noticed in your poster that you mentioned that the education had deteriorated in quality at the Art School. How do you feel the quality of your education has been impacted due to increases in student numbers and increases in tuition fees?

“The school has very, very good teaching staff. They give us a world class education. The deterioration has been in the facilities and space that we get for those staff to implement that education. The problem lies in the fact that we’re basically running out of room. We don’t have the resources in the workshop to accommodate the number of students and if you’re encouraging an Art School, [a place] that is about making and producing ambitious and new projects, you need room and support to do that. The teaching staff are as ambitious as the students are about the potential of the school. But because of the increasing numbers of students and because of the mismanagement of space – especially the workshop space – we end up with an education with a missing link somewhere. We’re getting the teaching, but the teachers don’t have space to do it.”

So is it a case of more students coming in every year and not enough space or materials are being provided for them?

“The school sells itself as being this hub of studio culture where every student has a desk and a place to work. With the current increase in student numbers, that is threatened. Spaces for teaching and meeting with tutors then get eaten into in order to provide more students with desks. So you then miss out on teaching space.”

Have you received any correspondence from the Art School concerning the protest?

“Yes, we met with representatives of the Art School today. There is a feeling that this is a surprise to them. I understand that feeling in some ways because we’ve made this happen very quickly and obviously we’re arranged it so that it happens on the open day on purpose because we felt that would be very effective. [However] all of these issues have been brought up previously though the formal channels of student communication. So [the fact] that this is a surprise to them proves the point that we’re not getting through to them and that these formal channels of communication are not effective.

“I think the idea of it being on an open day makes the school nervous, which is understandable. We’re not really against certain staff members; it’s just a general move by management. The teaching staff are very supportive and it’s frustrating for them, too. There are lots of part-time staff who teach us one day a week who will come in and then find that there is no room for them. So you spend a lot of the morning just trying to find space to do the actual teaching. It’s very frustrating.

“So yes, we have met with senior staff members and that is going to continue today and probably tomorrow. At the moment there is no change and there is an ongoing discourse.”

Onto the protest itself, how much support have you got and how much are you expecting on the day?

“We have 900 people invited to the event and a few hundred have confirmed they will be there and many are interested. It’s one of those things where you’ll find out in the day.”

“This started in Architecture, but we didn’t want to make it about individual schools. We want a united front from all Art School students. [We organised a meeting and] we invited members from the Student Representative Council and our Students Association and students from all of the schools. We invited everyone and they came and we had a discussion. There is a general dissatisfaction.

“We’ve written our manifesto on the poster to relate to everyone, not just individual departments, in the hope that every student unites on this and we voice an issue. Then individual departments can begin to break down their own issues and have a more productive discourse following this.”

What’s the ideal outcome of the protest?

“If there is a clearer and more effective means of communication between the people who run the school and make the decisions about the direction of the school and the students, who pay for the school and are the school, then that would be the first big move.

“That our issues are taken seriously and discussed and seen to be dealt with quickly and more effectively would be a second aim.

“And the beginning of a process of fixing those major problems within those departments – and a lot of them come down to the centralisation of workshops and technical services. I think if we begin to see conversations in all of the departments about how that can be tackled in an individual departmental way, where each department gets more autonomy on how these things are run for them and how the individual needs of the department are catered for – students and staff – then that would be the third.

“We’ve set out the manifesto and it’s quite dense, but I think it boils down to communication. The students should have a say on these things, instead of them just happening and then we find out the consequences. Some of us have been here nearly six years and some of my colleagues have paid a lot of money to have been here for that amount of time. Students in the school should be valued.”

That makes sense; you want value for your education.

“Well, yes, but also we want the school to be seen to value the students. Not just that we feel we are getting our money’s worth, it’s more that the school acknowledges us as the heart of this school. At the moment, the students are acknowledged individually if they win awards and the press team jump on that bandwagon[… ]That’s not creative education, especially at a school like this with the reputation it has. It should be more about having some influence on the wider world culturally.

“If we’re not producing artists and poets and architects and designers that are going to improve society – and if we don’t appreciate the value of that – then why are we at the Art School? Why is anyone employed at the Art School? It’s got to be taken more seriously because the students here have more potential than how they’re being portrayed.”