Student protests continued at NCAD Thursday with a march against cuts, fee increases, structural changes and the lack of transparency around college accounts. Led by the NCAD Student Action group, between one hundred and fifty to two hundred students, alumni, and others gathered at NCAD before marching to the Department of Education. NCAD Student Action is an independent student group, and describes itself as “NCAD students against the irresponsible governance of their college.” NCAD Student Union is not directly involved in the protests.
There is a core group of around twenty organisers involved in the activities of Student Action, three of whom spoke to Trinity News before the demonstration, explaining the problems facing students as they see them. Organiser Emer Walshe claimed that “[i]f we don’t achieve some of these demands, there won’t be a degree show next year, there won’t be a glass department, there won’t be MFA [Master of Fine Arts] studios.” The conflict has seen students and staff united against the senior management and director of the college. A poll of students conducted by the union found that 99.3% of respondents believe that the director is not acting in their interests. At the same time 94% of NCAD SIPTU members supported a vote of no confidence in the senior management.
NCAD published a statement in response to the protest today saying that the college was “going through a period of necessary changes in recent years in response to the Government’s reform agenda.” They state that Student Action have made inaccurate claims about the problems facing the college, though their one page statement doesn’t respond to many specific demands.
The protests are against a wide range of problems, particularly around structural changes and financial transparency. There is a mandated audit by Higher Education Authority (HEA) of the college accounts each year, but NCAD senior management have stated today that they’ve only reached “the end of 2012”.
That same statement explains that NCAD core funding from the government has been cut by 52% in the past five years. Walshe explained that such cuts were difficult to fight against with “104 million unaccounted for.” Although full accounts are not available, some additional expenditure has been noted by students, such as the hiring of public relations firm DHR Communications. Walshe attacked this, saying that “since we stopped spending on actual resources for students, we’ve started spending enormous amounts on publicity.”
The issue of resources is central to the protests — Niamh Moriarty, another Student Action organiser, said that there was no noticeable change in the provision of materials or space since the introduction of the levies that were introduced to cover materials and studio space. In response the NCAD statement claims “All funding by NCAD has been used for the purpose intended.” Moriarty doesn’t accept this, and advocates that students refuse to pay the student levies next year in protest.
With a 75% increase in the number of first year students entering NCAD in the past three years, Walshe claims that no provision has been made “for extra resources, extra space, extra workshop access.” This increase follows on from undergraduate degrees being reduced from four to three years, with Moriarty explaining that students are then pressurised to do a two-year masters course at considerable cost.
The postgraduate courses are a serious problem in and of themselves, as there are currently no stable leases on studios for master of fine art students. Instead, they have had to make do with temporary, precarious spaces where they can be given ten days to leave. Walshe, herself a masters student, says that these students have paid upwards of ten thousand euro.
The organisers spoke of how they ‘loved the college’, while expressing their fear that the changes not only affect current students but are indicative of negative future prospects. They claim the ‘reforms’ will mean a significant decline in the quality of education at NCAD, and Moriarty believes the college will be “eventually shipped out to Belfield” with its current campus sold off.
College management insists that the changes lead on from government cuts and as such are vital to safeguard NCAD’s viability. Their statement says that management “have been implementing changes necessary to provide for the needs of students and graduates into the future.”
Walshe says that instead of instituting ‘changes’ to college structures the director should be arguing for art and design education and it’s inherent value to society. She simply doesn’t believe senior managements claims about the necessity of ‘reforms’: “They fundamentally don’t care about students.”
Photos and video: Matthew Mulligan