Arts SU's Letter to UAL re:COVID-19

Dear University Senior Management and Governors,

The Sabbatical Officers at Arts Students' Union are extremely concerned that the Union has received very little information regarding the University’s COVID-19 crisis plan. We are frustrated to be finding out all information second hand and in a fragmented way from our other university meetings. We need real consultation for our students.

There has been a lack of communication given to final year students with regards to their end of year hand-ins and assessments; many students rely on these weeks during Easter to fabricate and make works for their final projects. Without clear guidance on what will be expected for their final assessment, students risk losing time and money. In addition, the assumption that students can continue to make work without studio access will put many students at a disadvantage. The mounting uncertainty is sure to continue to worsen mental health, as it is an added and unnecessary source of stress to add to current events.

There is a recognition that for many students, the degree show is their final submission and therefore an integral part of their learning. The degree show for many is a first debut as an artist or a designer and what they have been working towards throughout the duration of their course. We are supporting students in campaigning for their right to a degree show, and expect the university to allow students to show their work when it is safe to do so. We also recognise that many students expect to leave UAL with a portfolio of work demonstrating practical skills; we are encouraging UAL to make a commitment to helping students catch up on this aspect of their teaching. This could come in the form of a commitment from UAL to give students access to studio space when the campus reopens, even if the student has graduated.

We demand to know what the university's plan is for international students at this time, where travel may be restricted or where it may be impractical for students to return to London for assessments. Although the university’s latest communication to those students said they will not be expected to return, the uncertainty that surrounds the assessments makes it hard for students to plan their workload and other practicalities of their study. We are also aware of the added financial uncertainty that comes with studying abroad. International students deserve clear and direct support during these uncertain times. We are asking the university to provide a clear timeline and an official term date.

We believe that all students should be allowed to defer their studies should they wish to do so. International students who wish to defer should receive every support measure available regarding visa sponsorship, visa application fees, security of accommodation and living costs.

We want to ensure that amongst the worries for students, both home and international, that money isn’t one of them. We would like to see the university commit to allocating more funds for students who are affected by COVID-19. We have seen increasingly that unemployment or lack of work for those in the gig-economy or with zero-hour contracts have rocketed, leaving many students struggling. We insist there be an easier system for students to receive money quickly during the crisis.

We are suggesting that the university extend the tenancies in halls, at no cost to the student, for those who are unable to return home, and to ensure that students left homeless during the pandemic are rehoused quickly, whether that be in halls or with support via the hardship funding.

We demand an honour system in allocating extensions, allowances, and funding for students who are affected by the pandemic. With many countries, including the UK, reluctant to test every suspected COVID-19 case, it may be difficult for students to prove that they have been affected by the virus. We are calling for compensation for final year students whose studies have been majorly disrupted. Many students who are working towards hand-in have had their studies impacted by the global crisis that has suspended teaching. Although online teaching is being developed, this greatly differs from the education to which our students have invested and committed. For those students who sought to learn practical skills, the closure of the technical resources during this time will have a major impact on their experience. How will UAL ensure the quality of teaching is upheld?

We are also demanding that students are promised clarity on how their work will be fairly marked, and that changes to the grade boundaries are generous considering the year they have had already. We would also like to be included in conversations about how new students will be allocated offers. It is recognised that BAME and working class students will be at a disadvantage as they are given lower predicted grades at A level. We would request that contextual admissions are expanded to all courses for this year's application, and that spaces are allocated fairly with this in mind.

The global pandemic teamed with financial burdens, uncertainties about degree outcomes, and social distancing will be major causes of student stress and anxiety. There are many students at UAL who rely on the counselling and support mechanisms on campus. How will UAL guarantee provisions are being made for disability and mental health support?

It is disappointing that UAL says they will not cover full pay for all outsourced workers if they are unable to work for any reason associated with COVID-19 including closure. For many of these workers, this is their main source of income and without it, they cannot provide for their families. We want assurance that all outsourced workers and agency staff at UAL will receive full pay. We also ask that they are included in all UAL staff correspondence. We are urgently requesting that the university be transparent about the conversations they are having behind closed doors regarding their action plans for COVID-19. We are shocked that none of the elected representatives from the student body have been consulted as the university makes seismic structural changes to how it delivers education and services.. We feel as though we are relying on rumors and leaked details from university staff about what is happening, rather than official notification. Other universities around the country are working with their Students’ Union to do what is best for students during this time, whilst our Union and are students are left in the dark. Students should be recognised as equal partners and conversations about their future at UAL need to be had as openly and efficiently as possible.

As Sabbatical Officers, University of the Arts London students have elected us to represent them in matters regarding their experience at university. We have been given these roles to work with UAL and the students to ensure that their voices are heard and actions are made with their welfare and student interest at the core. We would like to work with Senior Management going forward and request to have a representative at any future meetings regarding the forthcoming term and COVID-19.

We look forward to your response and we hope to meet in the next week to discuss how the union will be consulted in key decisions.

Arts Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers,

Anita Waithira Israel  (She/Her) Education Officer, Amber Goneni (She/Her) Campaigns Officer, Pinky Latt (She/Her) Welfare Officer, Eleanor Louise West (She/Her) Activities Officer

On behalf of the Student Body at University of the Arts London