As revealed in the Independent last week, more than a quarter of the students on the photography course at the RCA failed to satisfy the examiners, opening up the debate over to what extent photographs should be seen as art. The external examiner was Michael Collins, a former picture editor of the Daily Telegraph magazine.
As an exhibition of successful students' work opened this week, students took their work down from the walls in solidarity with their failed colleagues. And David Hockney, himself a former student at the RCA, visited the show and sent the students a message of support.
Hockney wrote to them: "Make your own [diploma]. It will be as meaningful as the RCA's. It's only dentists and accountants who give you confidence when you see their diplomas on the wall. They take all that too seriously here. I thought your show's very good. Whatever you do, don't let them keep you in after school."
Yesterday the students on the course issued a statement unanimously demanding the resignation of Michael Langford, the course director. In their statement the students said: "The results of the final examination were entirely unexpected. Students were given no prior notice of their impending failure."
They called for the resignation of the director of the photography course and a reassessment of the entire graduating year and the validity of the examination procedure.
Ironically, some of the failed students found their work in the catalogue the RCA was handing out to members of the public yesterday. One failed student said: "I have been given no reason at all. I've spent two years working on this and have been given nothing but encouragement from visiting lecturers and academic staff ..."
Last night, Christopher Frayling, pro-rector of the Royal College of Art, gave his first comments on the dispute. He said: "In the final examinations for photography two students failed and two students were referred. The two referred students will be re-examined. The two failed students' appeals will be heard. We will look at whether everything was conducted correctly, whether there have been any procedural anomalies. But the appeal is strictly not on the work."
Mr Frayling added: "I don't see this as an issue of principle at all. It's about individual students. By their work shall they be judged."
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