This morning at 8.45am students of the Royal College of Art staged a protest to manifest their disagreement with the way the College is being run. Students pay tuition fees of £9,500 and £28,900 per year for home/EU and international students respectively. The Senior Management of the College is perceived by students to make decisions based on operational considerations rather than academic requirements, while excessively complicated administrative procedures dictate the day-to-day agenda of the College.
The protest was staged to coincide with a meeting of the Complaints Committee held in regards to the College’s decision to restrict access to the workshops in the lead up to the RCA’s annual degree show 2015. The committee met after the Final Show Subcommittee of the Student Representative Council lodged a formal complaint on the 24th of March 2015. The protest is the culmination of months of negotiations between the student representatives and the College management that started in December 2014. Access to the workshops is crucial in the last few weeks before the SHOW 2015 opening, and this decision was made without prior consultation with the students.
The students learned about the decision made by the Senior Management Team of the College only upon returning from their Christmas holiday. Both Sabbatical Officers of the Students’ Union and subsequently the Subcommittee met with a variety of stakeholders from within the College throughout January and February to try to negotiate either a reversal of the decision or at least compromised workshop access. It became clear in these meetings that the College’s intention was to make savings due to overspending on the degree show in 2014. The students made suggestions on where else to cut the costs, but these were largely ignored. This led to the first instance of student protest at the Royal College of Art Council in March. Approximately 100 students lined the staircases of the Frayling Building in South Kensington and stood silent and still, whilst members of the Council walked past to attend the meeting. Following this demonstration, the Subcommittee decided to lodge the formal complaint at hand.
The protest today is also a reaction to a variety of decisions taken by the senior management of the College in the recent past that have been perceived as detrimental to the student experience at the RCA. While students are aware that there are external forces causing changes that the College cannot control, the internal response to such changes has been perceived as largely slow and negative.
This morning, approximately 100 students once again silently lined the hallways inside the College awaiting the arrival of those sitting on the Complaints Committee to begin at 8.50am. Once the meeting was in progress, the students moved outside the window of the Committee Room on Kensington Road to express their concerns loudly. They held up signs reflecting their widespread discontent regarding changes at the RCA, and the decisions of its management affecting their education that were made without their input. Issues that led to the protest included a reduction of resources for the college’s final show – with reduced opening hours, insufficient AV equipment, unwillingness to cut costs by giving students invigilation jobs, and most incredulously, the restriction of access to technical workshops one week before the final show.