Illustration by Karolina Varvarovska
University is expensive, but fortunately the UK government provides loans for both fees and living costs, meaning that for many students the price of their education remains out of sight and ultimately out of mind. The same applies to art colleges, but unlike most universities almost all the subjects require some form of physical product alongside written work. Students are required to fund these compulsory projects themselves.
This is where the discrepancy occurs, as after paying over £9,000 each year to attend university it is expected that basic necessities are included in the cost. That money is supposed to cover your education - usually a 5 day lecture programme - but as art schools mostly provide only a few days of teaching a week, shouldn't the rest of the money be invested into the practical projects students are required to do in their own time and budget? Where is the 9K going if not into students work?
That’s a genuine question as I can't see the effect of my money anywhere around me. It is not going into resources or lecturers' salaries, as is evident from the sporadic but persistent strikes of the last few years, with a new set beginning next week. They are underpaying staff while overcharging students for an incomplete education. Before the UCU strike begun a meeting was held explaining the unfair and frankly unsafe conditions placed upon our teachers. It was revealed that only 20% of fees are given to our lecturers who have to bear the burden of a gendered pay gap and hourly pay contracts. We will potentially be missing out on a month of university, with the likelihood of reimbursement minimal and our lecturers pay being docked. The remaining 80% is clearly not going into counselling or related pastoral care either, as the waiting list is two months long. Other staff members at the university have also suffered from maltreatment, with protests combatting outsourcing and unfair conditions for cleaning staff have been held throughout the past year. University fees have spiked, yet the quality of care has plummeted for both staff and students.
Many students are left at a disadvantage under these conditions as they cannot afford high quality materials. In degrees that are based around the aesthetic factors, quality and material choice are of the upmost importance. Some may simply not be able to fund the projects they would like to present, having to compromise on their creative work and ultimately their grade due to a lower budget. This is unfair as some cannot achieve their full potential whilst others can effectively buy a better grade by presenting expensive, high quality fabrics. This being said, it is also unfair to restrict students by providing specific or limited supplies, but vouchers or a budget cap could help level the playing field for students whose process is currently being restricted. For art students, the formative years spent in university are meant to focus on discovering and experimenting with one's creativity. It is not an easy task but levelling the playing field is essential in institutions which should have the funding to do so.
The slogan 'Happy Teachers, Happy Students' is currently plastered on the walls of my university in support of the strikes. At the moment it seems no one is happy apart from the illusive management, whose cuts and demands are greatly effecting those in their care. Students being required to buy their own supplies whilst their fees are being bled out of their education is both corrupt and unfair. It seems for happy teachers, happy students and fair conditions management may have to start using tuition fees for their allotted purpose, as more and more students begin to wonder where their 9K goes.
Written by Isobel Gorman-Buckley