For arts students in the final year of their studies, coronavirus couldn’t have come at much of a worse time. At art schools across the UK, campuses have been closed and students forced out of their accommodation, while lectures for the final term of the year will now be delivered online and graduations are postponed indefinitely. As for the summer degree show – the much anticipated final moment before students step into the brave new world of work – an increasing number of universities have chosen to scrap them in their traditional form entirely, as they scramble to support their students while also trying to stay financially afloat themselves.
As with most other sectors, higher education has been blindsided by the pandemic, and inevitably some institutions will come out of the other side having handled it better than others. The most high profile target for criticism so far has been the Royal College of Art, which last month announced a move to online learning and a virtual degree show. So far, almost 8,000 people, including Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey, have signed a petition “saying no to the virtual show”, and calling on the university to postpone all coursework and degree shows until the current lockdown is over.
“I think it is important to separate the tutors from upper management,” says Ricky Stoch, a final year student on the RCA’s Visual Communication course. “In my opinion, the tutors are doing their best to listen to students’ needs and are trying to accommodate. Tutors with whom I have spoken are hugely sympathetic to our concerns and tend to agree with the students. However, when it comes to upper management our concerns appear to fall on deaf ears. From our perspective there has been little to no attempt to come up with a solution in consultation with the student body. All of our classes and assessments have moved online regardless of the fact that the technology is not advanced enough to support big group discussions, studio work or access to workshops, which form the foundation of RCA’s pedagogical approach.”