MA/MFA Students Letter to Slade School of Fine Art

MA/MFA Students Letter to Slade School of Fine Art

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Slade MFA/MA Students 2020-2021 started this petition to The Slade School of Fine Art and

To Professor Stella Bruzzi Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts and Humanities,
Kieren Reed Dean of the Slade school of Fine Art, Joe Tilley Academic Manager, Slade School of Fine Art, Karin Ruggaber Director of Studies Graduate Programme and Head of Graduate Sculpture, Jayne Parker Head of Graduate Fine Art Media, Estelle Thompson Head of Graduate Painting

We write in the wake of a new national lockdown in England, nearly a year since the start of the pandemic. This situation of remote learning which everyone expected to be temporary is now about to continue into the second and perhaps also the third terms. A collection of disappointed MFA/MA students are writing to let you know that we believe that we are not getting what we've paid for. 

With the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, we believe it is right that universities close to prevent further spread of the virus. We support a switch to online teaching until things get better.

With that said, we collectively feel that online teaching will result in a significant compromise to the MFA/MA experience. With virtual meetings running until mid-February at the earliest, we will lose a substantial part of our total course time, drastically curtailing the opportunity to make work in the studio, experiment, learn and network with our colleagues face to face. 

Our decision to commit to our programmes of study was made with full confidence in UCL and the Slade to be making a determined effort to ensure the level of this practice-based degree is attained even during these difficult times. For many of us, this effort included moving countries and the fees associated with it, visa expenses, travel costs, etc.. With recent government restrictions not allowing us to get to our studios, the core element of the MFA/MA experience will undoubtedly diminish its value – a consequence that will be fully borne by the students, instead of being fairly distributed between us and the University.  

We fully understand that this is an unprecedented time. Everyone is trying to navigate changing, unclear waters. However, as a collective, we are frustrated in the lack of inclusion of students in conversations and creative problem solving endeavors. We expect the Slade to offer other options and solutions which are available to compensate for the value we have lost due to the current circumstances. Below we have listed the conversations we would like to contribute and help to find solutions for:

1. Reasonable Fees: Moving forward, we are simply asking to pay fees which are reasonable in light of what the Slade is able to provide. We ask UCL and the Slade to provide a breakdown of tuition fees to understand how funds have been reallocated in 2020-2021. We refuse to pay for the services which the university cannot provide in the foreseeable future. At this moment in time, the only aspect of our course that we have received is the dedication and thoughtfulness of the staff. We ask the Slade to seriously consider reimbursements in order to give students the agency to find alternative solutions. Beyond a financial issue, the fact of us not getting what we paid for becomes a serious question of morality/fairness which has yet to be specifically and directly addressed by the Slade or UCL.

2. Studio space: As the MFA/MA program is studio based, the access to space is at the core of our frustrations. Being given a studio, with the opportunity to connect and learn from a well selected group of students from all over the world in-person, is the most critical factor in this program that ultimately convinced us to invest in an MFA/MA. Studio space allows us to experiment, research and develop our practices. It is an integral part of the tutorial and art conversation and should be indispensable to meaningful progress. Many of us don’t have the appropriate space offsite to produce our best quality of work. This can then become a class issue, exacerbating privilege within a broader context in the Art World. Below are some solutions we have discussed that we believe can serve as potential solutions: 
a. According to the average price of a studio space in London is £150-£300 pcm. A discount in fees from UCL will allow us to fund our own studio spaces offsite. 
b. Slade studios and workshops should be available for students during the summer vacations as well as during the term breaks. 
c. Potentially providing the students with a term extension as well as studios after graduation. 

3. Facilities and Art-Making Resources: Online Art School does not provide students with safe and accessible studio space, technical equipment and workshops, printing and making resources, library facilities, or support from specialist technicians- we are not being provided with the basics. Providing these resources is an expectation of art schools all over the world. These resources are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. No student has access to resources like these outside university. Furthermore, since September we have not had any access to project spaces, making it less than ideal for us to install, show or document work. We expect the Slade to be offering spaces for these purposes which are crucial for our progress.

4. Career Resources and Networking Opportunities: Many of us feel that life post graduation has yet to be appropriately considered. It feels as if it's been glossed over that many of us have signed on to a postgraduate programme for employment in London in addition to furthering our practices. The pandemic has had enormous affects on what opportunities and connections we will have. We want the Slade to use its resources and influence to help us more than it has done so far. 

5. Long Term Unsuitability of Online Learning: Online learning does not account for time zones and technical accessibility. Students and tutors are spread thin across varying time zones and while some have suitable access to the internet, others, for geographical or financial reasons, do not. Virtual learning does not support or facilitate some types of learners, including those who have reading and writing challenges or those to whom English is not a first language. As our personal experience and contemporary pandemic research suggests, remote learning has a negative impact on student participation and mental wellbeing. Students feel isolated and often find it hard to engage. We are aware that some face to face teachings have been taking place during Tier 3 at UCL and other universities and we expect the Slade to allow this as soon as circumstances improve.

6. Community-building: Due to social distancing measures, opportunities for students to meet and learn from each other have been very limited. Without the possibility of a studio culture developing due to safety measures, our experiences, so far, have been isolating. In addition, community building across the area is an essential part of this multidisciplinary program which has not been possible. We are asking the Slade to initiate across-area critiques/activities to build a stronger sense of community and make our experiences less isolating.

7. Added Pressures on International Students: With the realities of Brexit beginning to sink in, the many EU students as well as the existing international students have and will continue to face exceptional challenges due to the pandemic. Many of us chose UCL because of its reputation as ‘London’s Global University’. However, many now feel as if UCL is not considering their unique visa situations (or the increase of tuition fees for EU students post Brexit) in case of deferral. 

8. The Interim Show and Uncertainty of the Graduate Show: As there are no interim shows or open studios seen in the near future, we ask the Slade to make more effort in enabling students to show their work to the general public and art professionals. The Interim show for 2020 was cancelled without any alternative or conversation about solutions. For example, the Slade should be arranging online / offsite shows to make up for the lack of regular opportunities to show work.

9. Re-Entry of Deferred Students: Soon the considerable number of students who interrupted their studies intend to rejoin. A large number of students will have to share access to the workshops, and share studio spaces that already feel full beyond capacity. The number of students starting in September hasn’t been reduced to make up for the size of the group in the year above, which means that after a tough year of having barely any access to space and facilities, current first years will face another year of reduced opportunities and restrictive working conditions. 

We expect the Slade and UCL to address our concerns and offer solutions to students to improve our experience which unfortunately has so far been unsatisfactory. Ultimately, we would like to thank all those at Slade who have been involved in delivering our programmes since September. In trying times, with uncertainty as the only constant, we acknowledge you have worked very hard to allow us all to have the most of what an art education should be like. We thank you for your efforts, and for your patience and hope this can be the start of a collective effort to improve the situation for all.

Without suitable compromises and solutions we feel we will be left with no other option but to resort to further collective actions, including withholding fees payments. We are well aware that every student’s education has been drastically affected by the pandemic. However, as we have laid out above, online art school IS NOT art school.

MFA, MA and PhD Students at the Slade

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