A group of graduate-level students at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) is planning to take legal action against the higher education provider after complaints they were failed during the pandemic were rejected by the college and Scotland’s independent ombudsman.
The legal action – the result of a crowdfunding campaign by the group calling itself Art School Racket – follows a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, which it did not uphold.
A separate investigation by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) concluded the GSA has “arrangements for managing academic standards and the student learning experience which are of limited effectiveness”.
Professor Penny Macbeth, director of the Glasgow School of Art, said the QAA report showed “we clearly have some challenging issues to address, and we will be working through them systematically and with rigour”.
Off the back of this QAA conclusion, the students want to take the GSA to court to win partial tuition fee refunds and an option to pause and recommence their studies at a later date.
The artists were roughly halfway through their 12-month program when the UK went into lockdown in March 2020: higher education providers were forced to closes campuses to all but the most critical researchers.
In a statement, the group said: “Online learning replaced our practical arts courses for the final semester. Most of us had no way of making work in our home or bedroom, and GSA simply told us to ‘adapt’. We continued to be charged full tuition fees for studio-based courses with no access to studios and workshops, and charged for seven weeks that were cancelled.”
Online learning replaced our practical arts courses for the final semester. Most of us had no way of making work in our home or bedroom, and GSA simply told us to ‘adapt’
– Art School Racket
The master’s students studying art and design say their education depended on access to facilities and equipment that were not provided during the lockdown.
“Our courses depend on access to studio space, technical workshops, equipment, materials, specialist software and technology. Access to these facilities is an essential component to our studies and the main reason why artists choose a postgraduate degree at GSA,” the group statement said.
GSA cancelled the final seven weeks of the semester, and students claim they had no contact from tutors for 10 weeks. The final degree show was cancelled, denying the students “the chance to meet curators, galleries, collectors, and art dealers, a pivotal moment for progression into the art world”. The group also claims GSA management instructed staff not to respond to student communications.
“Course work and essays that were due were cancelled, which meant we lost the opportunity to develop our written work and creative development. We were assessed on work to date, but not allowed to submit new work and received no feedback,” the added.
The students claim the impact of the pandemic affected “an already blighted year”, one struck by strikes, mismanaged studio and workshop access and no student union arts bar.
In their original complaint, students demanded that, following the disruption, the GSA offer students the choice to suspend studies or receive a partial refund of fees. An investigation by the Quality Assurance Agency concluded the GSA has “arrangements for managing academic standards and the student learning experience which are of limited effectiveness”.
“This judgement means GSA does not currently meet sector expectations in relation to the arrangements it has in place for securing the academic standards of the awards it offers and enhancing the quality of the student learning experience it provides,” concluded the QAA report, conducted in October 2020 and published in April 2021. “GSA is asked to take action in a number of areas to ensure that quality and academic standards are not put at risk in the future.”
A spokesman for Glasgow School of Art previously told the Times: “The complaints in question went through the GSA’s complaints process, the final of stage of which is for the complainants to ask the independent Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to review the matter.”