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End Art School Farming!

[Photo credit: Richard Bevan]

Dr Cecilia Wee is a Visiting Lecturer and Dr Matt Lewis a tutor at Royal College of Art. Here they write from the frontline of the industrial action by University and College Union members across the UK.

'Packing, pumping, filling, milking
Packing, pumping, filling, milking
Packing, pumping, filling, milking
End Student Farming!'

So goes a chant written together by students and staff as part of a series of teach-outs outside the Royal College of Art as part of fourteen days of industrial action by University and College Union members across the UK.

London art institutions such as The Royal College of Art, University of the Arts London and Goldsmiths trade on the stellar reputation of their teaching staff and alumni. Yet some of these artists are amongst hundreds of teaching staff out on strike as part of fourteen days of unpaid action against exploitative working practices. Those on strike are demanding change and these demands are based around the Four Fights; 1. Precarious Employment Practices, 2. Unsafe Workloads, 3. Gender and 4. Ethnicity Pay Gap and Falling Pay.

90% of teaching staff at the RCA for example are employed on ‘zero-hours’ and other insecure contracts, making them the RCA no1 casualiser in the sector. This means most lecturers get no sick pay, maternity pay or annual leave, and that lecturers can get fired at any time. Lecturers at RCA on average perform 2 days’ unpaid work every week, women and black and minority ethnic staff experience significant pay discrimination. At the RCA the gender pay gap rose 10% last year. Since 2009, university lecturers’ pay has been effectively cut by nearly 20% in real terms, this is worse for Visiting Lecturers who do not receive any pay increments each year.

[Artist: Eleni Ikon]

What has really poured oil on the fire was the news last week that RCA and UAL have again been awarded number 1 and number 2 slots in the QS Art and Design University world rankings. The relationship between staff exploitation and rankings is clear across the sector, with Russell Group institutions recently being outed for having some of the highest numbers of casual staff. With a steady supply of eager, hyper-qualified, potential new staff snapping at their heels, many have been reluctant to complain fearing easy replacement but momentum is building and staff have had enough.

Students are upset and disappointed; some have marched with their tutors, made them tea and cake and even started a radio station in support of the strike action. Others are asking for their fees back and are asking why their tutors don’t just get fired for refusing to work. This divide is symptomatic of recent changes in institutional and student attitudes to art school education with top institutions adopting a hard line neo-liberal model based on a financial rather than pedagogical imperative. With students treated as customers, packed into cramped studios, fighting for tutor time and resources, dissatisfaction is high. As this is being written, there's live action of the student occupation at RCA on Strike Radio… Occupations are also taking place at universities across the country including UCL, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Brighton, Exeter. Student concerns aren’t going anywhere soon.

About Dr Matt Lewis
Matt is a sound artist and musician, his work focuses on the relationships between sound and the social. Key areas of interest include the politics of sound, urbanism, sonic inclusivity and immersivity. His work is most often focused on particular physical sites, or around particular social issues, such as regeneration, disability and urban planning. Matt is also co-director of Call & Response, one of Europe’s only independent sound spaces.

Help the cause and donate to the hardship fund: opencollective.com

[Photo credit: Richard Bevan]

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