Royal College of Art ‘in a state of jeopardy’ as staff quit and students protest

The RCA  was named the top university for art and design in the world in May

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The Independent Online

The Royal College of Art, hailed as the top university for art and design in the world this year, has been left in a “state of jeopardy” after suffering the humiliation of having to cancel the first year intake of one of its courses. 

A combination of student unrest, Government funding cuts and staff departures over the past 12 months at the institution – where alumni include the artist Henry Moore, the film director Ridley Scott and the architect Thomas Heatherwick – prompted the suspension of admissions to the Design Interactions course.

Paul Thompson, the RCA rector, revealed the cancellation in his summer internal newsletter, although it has only just emerged publicly. He blamed the intake “pause” on the departure of three senior staff who did not work their notice period, adding the school had failed to bring in replacements in time.

Dr Thompson said in the newsletter that closing the first-year admissions put the school in “an unnecessary state of jeopardy”. He estimated the move would cost £300,000. When added to   shortfall in expected foreign student admissions, the total loss was £750,000.

While the college is not planning legal action against the staff members, it is seeking legal advice over whether to pursue damages from staff who do not work their notice period in the future.

Criticism has been levelled at management over its failure to effectively communicate what is happening at the school to students and staff.

Anna Winston, the editor of online design magazine Dezeen, said: “We are being contacted by students and tutors all the time asking if we can find out what is going on. Everything’s a bit murky. 

She added: “The RCA may have a very clear plan and its just not communicating it very well, but it’s not only to us: its not communicating it very well to staff and students either.” 

A spokeswoman for the RCA said that since the newsletter was issued in July, “we hit our recruitment target so there is no shortfall”. No further information was forthcoming, although the rector said the school was now in “good health”. Last year it generated a surplus of £500,000. 

The RCA, which was founded in 1837 as the Government School of Design, it was named the top university for art and design in the world in May, in a universities ranking system compiled by higher education group QS.

It boasts of being the “world’s most influential wholly postgraduate university institution of art and design”, and “offers a transformative experience to talented individuals, developing great creative minds and ideas that will be central to the cultural evolution of our societies”.

Unrest has been rife among the students, however, with an anonymous open letter posted around the buildings last year saying students on the design products course were “deeply concerned and frustrated with the evident and undesirable deterioration of education”.

Students held a silent protest in May, complaining about cuts to degree show opening hours, as well as how the fees were being spent. One held a sign that said “Too much rector’s pay! Not enough RCA.”

Some have complained that student numbers are increasing while the number of teachers has remained the same. In 2012 there were 1,050 students and two years later that had risen to 1,350.

Like other universities, the RCA is looking for ways to cope with cuts to its Government grant. In 2014, its funding was £13.7m but in the most recent accounts it predicted a fall in 2015/16.