An Open Letter to the Court of Governors at UAL
It is my understanding that you sit on the Court of Governors at the University of Arts London and that part of that role is to safeguard the good name and values of the institution as well as making such provision as you think fit for the general welfare of students. For this reason, I am writing to inform you that I believe that the response from the University of the Arts London to the coronavirus pandemic is failing to equip graduates to face the future, to celebrate the diversity of approaches and to draw on and develop our natural enterprise and curiosity. Most importantly, UAL is failing to respect its students’ and staff’s individual voices and collective endeavours. In short, I am writing to ask for your help because I feel abandoned and scared.
The coronavirus pandemic is something that has shaken up all of our lives in unimaginable ways and I did not expect UAL to be able to predict something of this magnitude, nor to prevent it. However, I feel shocked by their management of the circumstances and particularly taken aback by their attitude to final year students.
In case you are unaware, we have been told that we must complete our summer term via online teaching and graduate by the usual date. I am horrified by this! If I may be frank, I believe that this decision is being taken because it is in the financial and administrative interests of the university and that the best interests of the student body are being sacrificed to minimise disruption to the next wave of enrolments/ fee-payers.
We are being told we must graduate by this date because:
1) It is in every student’s interest to progress of graduate according to the normal calendar year. This is simply not true. Given the current climate, what advantages come from a June graduation when most of the world will still be quarantined in their own homes? Some students may have been offered a job after graduation but it seems unlikely they will be able to take these if the global lock-down is still in place. What’s more, we conducted a poll of 250 students of which 224 responded that if the university offered them the option to suspend their studies and complete their summer term at a later date - with full access to workshops, equipment and teaching staff - and could guarantee a visa extension and all the financial support they needed, they would take the offer. It is apparent to me that the student priority is not to graduate in line with the academic year.
2) Some students would not be able to return to London and suspending studies at this time would increase uncertainty.
This is another misunderstanding from senior management that we are facing over and over again. We are not asking for executive decisions to be made, rather for students to be given options and flexibility. When I signed my contract with UAL I was making an informed decision; I read course outlines, student testimonies, scoured online reviews and ranking tables of countless universities before handing over tens of thousands of pounds and three years of my life. Now all of these decisions are being taken out of my hands without any student consultation - it is unfair and flies in the face of the values of the university. I believe it may also amount to a breach of the academic contract.
3) The government are unlikely to extend student loans.
This is where we need your help. We want to work together with yourself, the wider court of governors, the executive board at UAL and the National Union of Students to request assistance from the government. I believe art students across the country are in a unique position and we cannot be dealt with in the same way that other academic courses can be. You have a huge student movement behind you, from universities such as UAL, Glasgow School of Art, The Royal College of Art, Goldsmiths etc. How can we work together to get the help we need from government ministers, including protection for international students?
We cannot complete our summer term via online learning. We have already missed four weeks of contact hours due to the UCU industrial action (which we stand in support of). Unlike other academic degrees, a certificate from an arts institution does not open up any opportunities for graduates - I came to UAL with the intention of creating a physical product that I would be given the opportunity to showcase at a physical degree show to industry connections. I am in grave danger of leaving this institution with nothing more than a pile of debt.