A large number of students at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin have been engaged in recent protests in relation to a range of funding, resource and management issues.
The protests have attracted national media attention, as has the critical report about the college produced by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG). Published in late 2014, the C&AG report noted delays by NCAD in preparing its annual accounts and for failing to comply with procurement guidelines (1). The most recently audited financial statements for the college date from 2010.
The document was also critical of Higher Education Authority (HEA) oversights. In response the HEA has stated that it plans to put in place enhanced processes in relation to these oversights in the higher education sector.
At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, held in January to discuss the report, NCAD’s Director, Professor Declan McGonagle, informed the committee that “a whole raft of measures” had been implemented and that the college would be completely up to date with its accounts audits by the summer of 2015 (2).
On the 20 March, 400 students each hand-delivered a signed letter of demands to Professor McGonagle. Two days later the students staged a sit-in inside the college boardroom.
The NCAD students’ demands included: a reduction of student numbers, or alternatively an increase in resources to meet students’ needs; provision of additional space for the 2016 degree show; reversal of the inflation of the MA Art in the Contemporary World fees; retraction of the newly-introduced fee for the college doctor; a date for the reintroduction of a glass furnace; permanent space for MFA studios. (3)
NCAD Student Union held a vote on 13 April 2015, as to whether the college’s director was working in the best interests of the college.
At an Emergency General Meeting of SIPTU members in NCAD, held on April 15, a motion was passed that stated: “Following the recent appearance of NCAD before the Public Accounts Committee and in support of the action of students, SIPTU members have expressed no confidence in the Senior Management Team of NCAD to plan for the long term fiscal and academic future of the college. We will as requested by our members bring this to the attention of the Department of Education and the HEA.” (4)
NCAD Student Action, the group organising the protests, have received a letter of support from international academics, stating that their campaign “ … mirrors those taking place across Europe and further afield and shares with them a common feature: the continued corporatisation of the higher education system to the detriment of the student body”. Among the 79 signatories is Slavoj Žižek (University of Ljubljana, New York University and Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities School of Art).
Recent international student protests of note include actions at the University of Amsterdam, York University, Quebec and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). NCAD Student Action have held meetings with representatives of Occupy LSE.
Speaking to the Irish Times NCAD’s Director Declan McGonagle has expressed the view that “… undoubtedly, at the centre of this is a major resourcing issue, which is true of the sector, true of art and design education, and is true of this college. It’s very difficult to negotiate change, especially when funding is being reduced, but working collaboratively, I’m actually optimistic that we can come up with the new forms of delivery that are necessary.” (5)
1. Committee of Public Accounts Debate: General Report No. 85 of the Comptroller and Auditor General: Accountability and Governance on the National College of Art and Design, 22 Jan 2015, www.kildarestreet.com <http://www.kildarestreet.com>
2. Art college’s accounting practices “not fit for purpose”’, committee hears, Irish Times, 22 January 2015
3. The full list of demands can be seen on the NCAD Student Actions facebook page.
4. 15 April, signed Louise O’Reilly, Sector Organiser, Education Sector, Pubilc Administration and Community, Division SIPTU
5. ‘‘NCAD students occupy boardroom in protest over resources’, Irish Times, 24 March.