Profit paints art out of picture at Falmouth

June 1, 2017

On 22 May, a collective of students, alumni, staff, past colleagues and political activists delivered two petitions to Falmouth University calling on it to abort its decision to scrap two of its most long-standing and successful courses.

More than 15,500 people want to save both the contemporary crafts degree, which has just seen its last show, and the foundation diploma in art and design, which is now “suspended”.

Following the university’s decision to close crafts in 2014, an increasingly cold shadow loomed over the course.

Despite having gained overwhelming support from around the world, there was among those of us delivering the petitions no sense of achievement. Falmouth’s vision has been reduced to a market-driven recruitment model that focuses on larger, more generic student markets, jettisoning courses that were once bread-and-butter – now considered niche.

Simply put, material- and process-based courses are space- and resource-intensive: when craft’s closure was announced, it was understood to return a profit of 10 per cent and had significantly exceeded its recruitment targets. However, courses were expected to yield 50 per cent profit. The rhetoric of craft’s closure crisply echoes in that of the foundation diploma, with Falmouth being quick to point out that it’s “expensive to run” and that other courses have to “subsidise” it. Certainly for crafts, that was a subsidy of profit, but in the neo-arts university, some students had little interest in supporting a course that was selfishly draining money from the loan-subsidised profit coffers that their respective cost-delivery centres had added to.

The “failure” of both courses rests in the fact that they are enduring, complicated and human. They’re embedded in both the regional community and economy, too. That simply won’t do. Falmouth no longer aspires to the “arts” but rather to “creativity” – a less challenging, less specialist and more generic, anyone-can-be-creative sort of experience. Its recent strategic vision is bland. “Students” become “customers”. “Recruitment” is “sales”. “Courses” are “products” and the “arts”…“creativity”.

Falmouth University’s future is pinned to the ass of creative industries – a sector that, in 2014, was said to be worth more than £84 billion a year. But how do these figures relate to Cornwall’s economy? It doesn’t matter – it’s an ideological driver of (generic) growth: the university will be more successful because there will be ever-growing numbers of “customers”, enjoying “products” delivered by “Real Staff Doing Real Stuff”. That’s what makes Falmouth University “The UK’s No 1 Arts University”.

Matthew Tyas
St Ives

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