At the beginning of last year’s election Mila and I went around to each department asking about student experiences.
We had a range of responses – from very excited and happy to be a part of RCA, to completely exasperated that their course is providing almost nothing of what they had expected from its reputation.
Problems are of course different in each department – but the overarching concerns remain:
1) Lack of studio space – too many students, not enough space to breathe, let alone work. Next year this gets worse – since even more students are coming. But, depending how the administration organises it, it could also be a bit better – 2 design departments are moving to the new space in Battersea. Let’s see how they reorganise Darwin.
2) Fighting with technicians/faulty equipment – again, too many students, frustrated and overworked technicians, who cannot meet everyone’s needs. There needs to be more coordination within departments on this, and students in each platform who depend on certain machines should pinpoint where the problems lie to administrators, since each case/discipline is different.
3) Unstable course structure – certain courses do not have enough permanent staff, or adequate support from tutors, especially new courses that have only started this or last year. Also, usually the sub-units (platforms or units) in each department have uneven support and resources, leading to tension within the department. There needs to be an Academic Standards Review of all involved.
4) Frustration with certain staff – And the awkwardness of not how to address them head on about the inadequacy of their support. SU could be the starting place for students to do so, if groups of students start writing down their complaints and points about incompetent/antagonistic staff and submitting them anonymously, they can be placed under review.
5) Not knowing about/being able to use other workshops – Some courses have and hold onto their own equipment, others keep it open. Most people expressed curiosity about being able to learn how to use new machines/techniques, but not knowing where to go to find them. The best suggestion we found was to have one open workshop/studio day a week, and a comprehensive resource guide.
6) Course disorganisation – This only applies to a few courses, whose teaching consists of impromptu, and often tangential/unhelpful lectures and tutorials. Read the course handbook – where your course doesn’t correspond to what it promises on the level of teaching, you can bring to the admin and at least ask for a refund.
6) Lack of interdisciplinarity – We all want to know each other a little better, but nobody has time because of the demands of their work. 95% of the time, connections between departments happen outside the course. And of course, not everyone gets a space in Across RCA. We need space for school-wide open crits so we can have the starting point to work together, not just play together.
7) Expenses – Not just the tuition, but the food is exorbitantly expensive… SU needs to price cap its sandwiches and provide more options. Also, why aren’t SU bar and cafe staff paid London Living Wage?
8) Degree/WIP show organisation – Tension arises due to poor communication to students about how their spaces are organised, and shows are produced with little to no curatorial input or ethics involved. Ironic since we have an entire curatorial department who is indoctrinated on the importance of respectful and critical means of presentation.
But!! Here are the positive bits we found:
1) We love our administrators. More often than not, they make or break department communication.
2) Technicians know everything. We respect that those who have been around for years still give the best advice, and are the most helpful mentors.
2) Good industry contact. The reputation around here is thankfully still intact.
3) One good tutor in a department makes a huge difference – and that tutor can even be the core of the course without whom, it would simply dissolve.
4) Our coursemates are like families. Studio culture thrives in most RCA departments, and the intensity of the programmes pretty much ensure that we will make some lifelong friends here.
5) We love the ArtBar & Cafe Royale (more than the Kensington RCafe) And those amazing pita chip soffles. Some fantastic memories and encounters are made at the parties in the evenings.
6) We respect and learn from each other. No matter what difficulties we encounter, one thing which is consistent across departments is that we know RCA designers and artists are extremely talented, creative, and proactive individuals at the top of their fields, from every country.
7) Things ARE getting worse before they get better. RCA is making huge structural changes to survive the economic climate. But the departments that complained 2 years ago are the best they have ever been now. This shows some of their changes produce the right effect… only eventually. it helps to know that they have their heads in the right place, if not their hearts.
8) The administration really listens and respects the SU’s voice – as it represents the students. We heard this from Team ORA (2013-2014) and Tom and Ritika themselves. The SU CAN make a difference. It just needs to stay well informed of student opinions.
No names/departments will be tagged here, but part of our goal is to bring through these specific concerns, which we have heard from you in your studios, through to the administration and committees who oversee your courses, tutors, and the spending of your tuition. There is no reason why this information cannot be out in the open, or why students should not compelled to actively discuss and make others aware of their studying conditions. A student told me they reason they got involved is that ‘your degree is only as good as your school is.’ By working together to solve our problems, we can only make our experience here more worth the effort and investment, despite structural flaws.