Dozens of protesters took over the reception area of the main building at Central Saint Martins in King’s Cross, London, over changes to its foundation courses in art and design.
Students at the sit-in at Saint Martins, which is part of the University of the Arts London, say up to 800 places will be lost when the courses at the London College of Communication (LCC) are abolished and those at Camberwell College move to Saint Martins. However, UAL says this figure is wrong and puts it at less than 600.
The occupation began on the evening of 19 March, leading to the closure of the Lethaby Gallery as locks placed on doors are apparently blocking access to a fire escape.
The protesters claim the loss of foundation courses would hinder efforts to recruit students who lack formal qualifications and reduce the quality of arts education at the college.
“The link between foundation and degree is vital, both for access for those from marginalised backgrounds, and for the quality of arts education and the ability of artists to explore different fields,” said Indiana Lawrence, a foundation student at Camberwell College of Art.
“What is being proposed is devastating, and we will stay here for as long as it takes to make UAL back down,” she added.
Protesters say a meeting will be held on 24 March to inform staff about how many jobs will be lost as a result of the changes.
The university says it is happy to meet a delegation from the student protests to discuss their demands, but has defended the cuts, which it says will lead to the loss of 580 places over the next two years.
It said the foundation is “not necessary or appropriate for students on non-art and design courses, of which there are many at UAL”.
“Non-art and design students – mainly at London College of Communication – will therefore no longer be required to undertake foundation courses there,” a spokesman said, adding that this “seems an effective response to a hostile funding environment”.
In addition to calling for a reversal of the cuts, the protesters have also issued a list of demands, which include increased financial transparency about how course fees are spent and the inclusion of student and staff representatives on the university’s executive board.
The full list can be found here.
Shelly Asquith, president of UAL students’ union, said management has “no mandate for pushing through these cuts”.
“They have continually undermined education in favour of profit-making and have shown contempt for engaging with the student body in any meaningful way,” she said.
“It’s clear that this government couldn’t care less about the arts – I would expect better from our own university,” she added.
The occupation is due to hold a public meeting on 23 March at 6pm.