It may seem like a cunning ruse to cut university teaching costs, but it is in fact the latest innovation in creating fresh challenges for design students: students on the Royal College of Art industrial design engineering course have been asked to design and build their own desks.
The 22 MA students were ushered into an empty room and told they had two and a half weeks to create their workspace, with only £200 to spend on each desk.
Tom Barker, head of department and joint director of the course, which is taught with Imperial College London, said the initiative was deliberate "hothousing". He said: "In design, you have to respond quickly to constant change and immediate challenge. That's what it's all about."
MA student Stephanie Chen, an aeronautics and astronautics graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who left an engineering job to gain more creative experience, said students were told by e-mail that a "special surprise" would await them on arrival.
"The fact you're constructing something you're going to have to work on for the rest of the year really puts a very personal motivation into the project. We'll know if our desks fall down whether or not we qualify," she said.