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Glasgow School of Art students revolt over £20k course with no tutors and studios with no heat

Students signed up to study for a degree at Glasgow’s prestigious School of Art with its top-rated lecturers in studios that provide a light, airy and friendly environment
Students signed up to study for a degree at Glasgow’s prestigious School of Art with its top-rated lecturers in studios that provide a light, airy and friendly environment

Students who paid up to £20,000 a year to study at the Glasgow’s fire-ravaged School of Art have demanded their money back after claiming their course was chaotic.

They have asked for compensation after accusing the school of failing to provide tutors and forcing them to work in dilapidated buildings.

Many overseas ­students are keen to study at the art school – designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and known as The Mack – but, after two fires, classes and studios have been decanted around the city.

The art school, ranked the eighth best university in the world for art and design education, charges international students joining the one-year Masters post-graduate course in fine art practice £19,440 in fees while UK and EU students pay £7,740.

But a letter of complaint to the school signed by 29 of the 34 students on the 2018-19 course reveals their dismay at their course and working conditions.

The 11-page letter, dated July 10 and seen by The Sunday Post, catalogues a series of complaints, including how they were asked to study in freezing, leaking studios on the other side of the city centre from the famous school. The letter reveals how one student’s mental health suffering because they felt so “isolated and detached”.

© Andrew Cawley / DCT Media
Students have been decanted to freezing, leaking studios with broken radiators and unclean toilets without toilet paper, students left isolated and denied tutors for months, staff ‘unwilling’ to help with degree shows

The 110-year-old Charles Rennie Mackintosh building was due to reopen last year after a devastating fire in 2014 but in June 2018 a second fire almost completely destroyed the building.

Yet the students say in their letter they say they were not told of the “severity” of workshop closures caused by the fire at the art school before starting the course.

They were based in the city’s Trongate, where their studio space was “unpleasant” and their working environment “difficult”.

The art school has space in the Tontine building but the students claim it was not properly maintained and said “there has been a steady decline in conditions”.

They listed a range of issues, including leaks, broken radiators, unreliable internet and “unpleasant and unclean” toilets without toilet paper and soap. Both toilets are now broken.

Issues were brought to the attention of staff throughout the year but “often without response or change, or only temporarily fixed”.

Staff were “stretched or limited by their contracted hours”, making it hard for students to “communicate with them or seek clarity throughout the course of the year”.

There was an “unwillingness” from staff to work with students to help them with their degree show.

Painting students had no tutor for months and a visiting lecturer marking their work “was heard saying that he ‘was not very familiar with the marking criteria’”.

The letter, however, said students’ frustrations were not with tutors, who showed empathy and understanding, but “forces operating in GSA”.

Students were also based at the McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street after the art school took a 95-year lease following the first fire, but there were problems there too.

Students said the media studio did not open until November and, while working with their peers was “talked up” in interviews, just five photography and moving-image students were based at the McLellan Galleries while others were at Tontine.

The letter said the “isolation and detachment” from peers caused “worsening of a mental health condition of one student in particular”.

After meetings with Dr Alistair Payne, the head of the school of fine art, the students were offered additional tutoring and extra help with the cost of degree shows.

However, the students have asked for compensation.

They added: “We are ­asking that financial compensation is paid in line with the fee paid, so those who paid a larger fee receive more compensation.”

Management at the school has come under increasing pressure over the second fire and been accused of failing to properly protect the £49m rebuild.

The art school said the students’ letter was going through the GSA’s formal complaints procedure.

A spokesperson said: “The Glasgow School of Art takes all complaints seriously and we have a robust formal complaints procedure.

“As this issue is currently subject to that procedure it would be inappropriate to comment at this point.”

Art school chiefs criticised on fire safeguards

Fire destroyed the building in June (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Glasgow School of Art’s board has come under increasing pressure over its management of the iconic Charles Rennie Mackintosh building.

The Scottish Parliament’s culture committee criticised the board in a report for not doing enough to safeguard the 110-year-old art school, which has been devastated by fire twice in four years.

Board chair Muriel Gray, who is on temporary leave, told MSPs last year that management of the iconic building had been “exemplary”.

But the Holyrood committee said it was not satisfied with the board’s guardianship of the building and that there were “not sufficient measures taken to protect the building from fire”.

The committee also called for a public inquiry into the two fires.

A report by Scottish Fire and Rescue Service on the cause of the second art school blaze is expected next month.

We told in June how students were being taught inside the Mackintosh building months before the second fire.

They visited as part of their studies while the restoration was ongoing.