Date: April 29, 2020

To: Prof Irene McAra-McWilliam, Lesley Coyle, Alan Horn, Jackie MacKenzie, Prof Ken Neil, Scott Parsons and Dr Craig Williamson,

We, the MFA year 2 students, are writing once again as we have not received a response to our first written communication dated 22nd March 2020. It has become clear that our attempts to initiate a dialogue have been ignored and the response taken by the school at this time fails to address any of our concerns.

We have repeatedly requested to be included in discussions surrounding the rapid changes being made to core pedagogical aspects of our degree such as assessment and culminating activities. It is specified in the MFA Programme Handbook that if “any major changes to your programme are proposed whilst you are studying, you will be consulted and given an opportunity to comment”1. The communication via GSA administration since facility closure and discontinuation of education does not qualify as consultation and is thereby breaking protocols made to protect our rights as students. As a result of this breach, we have not been provided options which properly account for the diverse complications we face as a student body. We have continually proposed that the school offers us reasonable options:

1) Deferral at no extra cost and postponement of Degree Show

2) Reimbursement of funds if choosing to graduate June 2020

Rather than discussing these options, The Glasgow School of Art has imposed plans to assess, graduate and showcase our work without our consent.

GSA’s refusal to give students any reimbursement of fees illustrates that the finances of the institution are a higher priority than education or student welfare. The school has instead attempted to frame their most recent proposal as an opportunity to rethink the nature of our practices and the progressive potential of the internet: ‘it is in the challenging moments that new forms of thought and expression emerge, and are most to be valued. New times require new voices and the forging of new styles and practices.’2

This sentiment is condescending to us as both students and art practitioners, representing the failure to demonstrate a commitment to the welfare of students and a refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming financial commitment attached to partaking in higher education in the UK.

Many of us have lost work or are on furlough and have been volunteering to help our communities where we can. Some even work within the NHS, providing much needed support in an industry outside of the arts. We have been impacted financially by this crisis, and it has had a detrimental effect on our mental and physical health. We should not be expected to plough on and finish this year as we would have pre-COVID. To quote a GSA spokesperson in The National last week:

“What is incredibly important at this time is not to lose sight of one of the greatest assets of artists and creative people — the ability to not only show but demonstrate empathy. As we address our very personal situations arising from Covid-19 we should not lose sight of this”.3

We are asking the school to demonstrate this empathy towards the student body.

Students should have the choice to resume their education in 2021 if they want to – this is in line with the current stance of the National Union of Students4 and has already been offered to graduating postgraduate students at competing art institutions within the UK.5 We expect the loss of studio and facility access to be compensated once the COVID restrictions are lifted for at least 100 days (equivalent to the number of days lost due to COVID-19).

There are eighteen students in our cohort. Our demands should not be difficult to arrange. Of eighteen, nine of us require VISA extensions in order to stay in the UK. These students should be a priority for deferral as the COVID-19 crisis has impacted their options to find adequate work in order to stay.

COVID-19 is just the latest interruption to our education this academic year. The move to the Stow Building between July and October and the industrial action in November and February/March were the result of poor management at GSA. These disruptions amount to a combined loss of 180 days of studio access and 171 days of workshop closures. In some situations, students have yet to receive 45% of their formal tutorials allocated during STAGE 3 of the MFA programme which had been postponed primarily due to the most recent month of industrial action. We emphasise that teaching staff are not to blame; they have been working under compromising conditions and we continue to support them in their requests for income parity, job security as well as racial and gender equality.

Teaching ceased on March 16, the week teaching staff were meant to be returning to work after almost a month of industrial action. Due to the absence of tutors during the strikes, we were looking forward greatly to re-scheduled tutorials. Following 3 weeks of silence, on April 9 we were notified of GSA’s plan to host an online showcase. This is scheduled for May 29, the same day that our cancelled Degree Show was meant to open to the public. These decisions were made without consulting students, while we plead for transparency and are continually ignored.

The emphasis put on showcasing graduates’ work does not outline any clear learning or technical support for students in order to replace what was missed due to COVID-19 closures. As we Stay at Home to Save Lives, we have lost access to learning support, equipment, facilities, and workspace. Therefore, the production of an online showcase is clearly not viable; and is not a sufficient alternative to the education which we expect and have paid for.

The option to apply for a small grant (the value of which is unknown) for a self-organised show at an unknown date in the future is not an adequate reimbursement for the experience of synthesising, resolving and sharing our research through embodied, studio-led work appropriate to a Master’s level course. While we appreciate the gesture of extending a helping hand once graduated, the lack of clarity surrounding what is being offered and who will have access to these finances only continues to fuel our disillusionment with the institution. Something must change in order to restore our faith in Glasgow School of Art.

Our distrust of the institution is neither unfounded nor reactionary; it is built upon a student experience characterised by a gradual paring back of resources, facilities and opportunities. The cancellation of the MFA Degree Show and subsequent ‘Showcase’ plans, are an exemplary iteration of how our education has suffered under principles of administrative austerity.

The whole of the UK is making necessary and unprecedented sacrifices for the collective good in this time of extreme change and hardship and we ask GSA to take similar action to protect the integrity of higher education, and to show solidarity and support to its students.

Date: March 22, 2020

To Senior Management at Glasgow School of Art,

During this time of unforeseen futures amidst the COVID-19 crisis, we, the MFA year 2 students would like to collectively address GSA in appreciation for their quick response in closing the school and following the governmental precautions to pause.

Nevertheless, we feel it is urgent to collectively respond to the speed of decisions being made regarding the continuation of our education, access to resources and the final physical Degree Show. We are deeply troubled by the far-reaching repercussions of this pandemic which has implications on our physical and mental health, financial security, professional careers, housing and immigration status. In light of this, we ask that any decisions regarding our education are made with transparency and communication in consideration of our needs.

We recognise that for institutions, the wheels must continue to turn, we do not believe that during a global pandemic our student experience or degree show are in any way more important than people’s health and wellbeing. We hope foremost that you and your families are all in good health during this crisis. However, unprecedented times demand unprecedented solutions; we ask that GSA take our concerns seriously as it moves forward.

It has been thoroughly disappointing that in times of crisis, instead of pausing in order to reflect, prioritise and protect the interests and well-being of the current student body, the school instead appears to have swiftly made the decision to put its head down and plough on at an accelerated pace.

As a result of this, the underlying feeling is that the graduating class are being promptly ushered out as preparations are made for the succeeding influx of a new cohort. The way in which the rest of the next year will play out remains so uncertain that it feels counter intuitive to adhere to an arbitrary predetermined timetable.

This is what we expect the school to offer in the coming months:

1. Postponement of teaching and access to studios and facilities at GSA until the autumn of 2020 or when it is deemed safe by the UK government to resume.

That our studies should be postponed seems an obvious solution to this situation. For those of us that have been anticipating postgraduate study for years — saving money, researching schools, taking out loans and in most cases moving internationally, we all chose GSA with faith in an exceptional education.

Alongside the interruptions to our studies from industrial action in 2019/2020, we will have lost 12 weeks teaching time in total this academic year. With COVID alone, we will miss 68 days of access to our studios, our tutors, and facilities.

Assessment is not a priority for us, this crisis does not run to a timetable and neither should we. To reiterate: we fully support the decision made by the school to close and suspend teaching, however we will not accept assessment without education as a conclusion to our studies. Our work is not complete as we do not have the resources or facilities to do so at this time, we expect to be given the time and space to do so when it is appropriate

2. Confirmation that our Degree show will be postponed, and acknowledgment that an online showcase is not an acceptable alternative.

The online showcase of graduating students in previous years has been in addition to the physical degree show, it is not acceptable as the primary vehicle to assess or act as a culmination of our education at GSA. Most of us make physical work; showcasing it via online platforms will not do it justice. Graduating students see the Degree show as a unique opportunity for experience and exposure, benefitting our future careers and giving us access to awards and funding prospects. These are opportunities that all graduating MFA students expect; it is unfair to rob these from us.

These requests are not limited to the GSA MFA cohort; we have been in communication with postgraduate students at other prestigious art institutions6 and postgraduate faculties at GSA including the PhD and Mlitt programmes. These students are asking for similar plans of action; in some cases being granted them through correspondence with their Heads of School. Some are also asking for full refunds of their tuition. What we are demonstrating is that our expectations are aligned with those of others both in the UK and internationally

Without a degree show or completion of our studio work, there is no way to assess the remainder of this term, as the ‘Consolidation of Studio Practice’ is weighted at 80 credits, while ‘Theorising Studio Practice’ is weighted at 20 and the elective, extended studio or extended theory is 20. This leaves 100 credits incomplete (Consolidating Studio Practice/Extended Studio Practice).

Below, we have highlighted key points from the MFA Programme Specification which further re-iterate our expectations from the school:

The planning of work for the final degree show exhibition, and the work involved in actually mounting that exhibition provide the culmination of the period of study on the programme, and finally prepares you for life as an independent artist, artist-researcher or a career in other related professional career sequels.

You are supported in the development of your work by critical feedback sessions (e.g. group critiques), individual tutorials, lectures and seminars. You will be expected to write a critically evaluative Progress Review that discusses the development of your work since the last assessment point.

This course aims to:

–Enable you to produce a sophisticated body of work that demonstrates the synthesis and resolution of practice and critical understanding;

–Provide the opportunity for you to prepare for the public presentation of work in collaboration with your peers and professionals in the field;

–Enable you to confidently contextualize your own work within the parameters of contemporary art practices;

–Encourage you to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of ethical good practice and your ethical responsibility in the public presentation of work;

–Enable you to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of Health and Safety issues as applicable to studio practice and as applied in the public presentation of work.

The MFA programme at Glasgow School of Art has the reputation of being committed to fostering a community of conscientious artists, while providing a generative space for collaboration, critique, and artistic production. All of us have made tremendous sacrifices, financial and otherwise, to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience that cannot be reconstituted online. Like you, we are devastated that our semester will not conclude as imagined. More than anything, we value transparency and empathy from the university, with the understanding that everyone is still finding their bearings in this unfolding crisis. We hope that this letter will be a fruitful point of departure, leading to productive conversations and equitable solutions for all. Thank you for your attention, and we look forward to hearing from you.