Save Our Art Degrees

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Why are we petitioning?

We are a group of final year art students at the Belfast School of Art (Ulster University). As such we take great pride in the hard work and endless hours we have poured into our degree over many years, all leading up to our final year. For us studio-based practice is essential - it means access to facilities, equipment, collaboration and the support of our tutors. Without it our degree qualification is simply a piece of paper - it’s the practice that helps us become self-directed artists and thinkers. It is hard to emphasise just how important this is as an artist.

The coronavirus has caused mass disruptions worldwide, and educational institutions are no exception to this. It has massively impacted our study. This is further compounded by a number of university strikes in the last couple of months, causing further disruption (14 days of strikes over 4 weeks in February & March 2020). So in reality we only received one complete semester as part of our final year study. 

In light of the coronavirus outbreak the Belfast School of Art have announced the following measures, curtailing our ability to complete our practice, specifically:

  • Studio based practice - this is now cancelled indefinitely for final year students, denying studio access for all facilities - switching to ‘online teaching’ via virtual learning - which is not a real option for art students who depend on studio practice. These are students who do not have the option of space elsewhere in which to work.
  • Degree Show (final year art exhibition) - will now not take place, instead a separate exhibition will be held later in the year (not guaranteed), but this no longer forms part of the degree. There are no further details on what form this may take or whether it will have any real value.
  • Final assessment - our final year degree grade will now be assessed by work produced in 1st & 2nd year, work completed to date in final year studio practice (which is unfinished work) and anything else already submitted this year.

We would like to acknowledge at this point our appreciation for our tutors. We know they care about our well-being and have tried to support us as best they can at this difficult time.

How this impacts us

The measures announced by the university impact us in a number of ways:

  • Virtual learning is not an option for art students and no alternatives were offered. We are unable to produce any further studio work - this means at the end of our degree we have no substantial body of work, cannot finish our final pieces for any exhibition or our portfolio and limits our growth to be seen as a self-directed artist, significantly damaging our future ‘next step’ options. As emerging artists this is critically important.
  • The degree show is a fundamental opportunity to propel our future as artists. It is our opportunity to showcase our work in public as professional artists and establish relationships with industry and the art scene. Without it we lose all of these opportunities. 
    Our career only develops with this experience – this means everything to us. 
  • The new method of final assessment, as outlined by the university, is an unfair approach. When we started our degree it was clearly stated that our 1st & 2nd years would not contribute to our final grade. These years were only a foundation to build on, for us to develop and  prepare us for final year - they should not reflect our final grade.

The practicalities of this are all underpinned by the enormous stress, frustration, disappointment and uncertainty for the future now felt by all final year degree art students, which is too difficult to convey in words alone.

What we want

We entered our degree with a commitment from the university as to the level of education and opportunity we would receive. A significant financial commitment was made by art students in exchange for this, and as students we have amounted substantial debts. We now feel cheated, short-changed and cast aside by the university for an education we should be entitled to having invested our finances and time for a better future.

We fully understand these are uncertain times. We also appreciate the difficulties the university is facing in managing and navigating change at this time. However, we feel they should consider the needs of art students further. We are not looking for hard and fast solutions. What we want from the university is a commitment to consider additional options other than the route they have already laid out. This may include:

  • Allowing a minimum of an additional 2 months in the university studio space, with full access to facilities, to finish our studio practice once the coronavirus crisis ends 
  • Postponing the degree show, enabling us to complete our studio-based practice for exhibition and benefit from what is the crucial culmination of our degree that may lead to future opportunities
  • A delay in grading so that assessment can be based on work completed in our final year, as stated by the university at the start of our degree

Belfast School of Art students