Over the last ten years conditions for staff and students at the RCA have plummeted. Institutional racism is endemic and the recommendations of the College’s own Equalities and Diversity panel are ignored. We have received no response to our open letter on systemic racism nor any feedback on the actions we requested the college take. Pernicious inequality is also evident with regards to sexism, as evinced by the gender pay gap, hiring practices, maternity/paternity leave policies, and systemic misogyny in the workplace. These issues also have intersectional ramifications. Permanent staffing has been cut by approximately 50%, while casual staff has increased by approximately 25%. Students have to contend with a worse staff / student ratio, less space and hugely increasing fees. While this might not sound like an exceptional experience in the HE sector, the RCA as a graduate and post-graduate only institution has had huge advantages over other universities.
The RCA has name brand recognition as the number 1 Art and Design University in the world. It has prestigious alumni who can act as advertising for the institution, regardless of the present conditions of employment and study.. Applications are up – even this year during the Covid-19 pandemic. Fees rates are not set by the government and donors are generous. The RCA is one of the most expensive Art and Design schools in the UK. In short, this is an institution which, if run properly, would be able to look after its staff and students not only with basic appreciation and vocal acknowledgement, but with material conditions appropriate to their labour and to their learning experiences. Instead, the polar opposite is the case.
In 2016, the UCU Precarious Work In HE Report found the RCA to be the number one employer of casualised staff, with 90% of those teaching on insecure contracts. In response, the management said they would work with the local UCU branch to make necessary changes. Instead, our only union rep was made redundant. In 2018, with the RCA UCU branch effectively non existent, they moved all hourly paid lecturers from contracts of employment to ‘terms of engagement’. This stripped these lecturers of employment rights and put them on zero hour ‘worker’ contracts. No one was consulted on this change. Notably, these contracts are also not fit to purpose and are entirely inappropriate for the work that these lecturers undertake, as well as to their position (frequently ongoing and core) within the wider College.
At the same time, other conditions at the College were also worsening. An increased student intake meant lecturers’ workloads were becoming unmanageable. One member had 14 PhD students while running and teaching on MAs. Furthermore, the college payroll was struggling with its internal processes, meaning some lecturers were not paid for up to three months. Additionally, while the college focused on new building projects, its existing estates failed to provide adequate heating and appropriate conditions in which to teach,with some classes being taught in the canteen or corridors; and many studios were left without heating through the winter. A 2019 staff survey showed 95% of staff were stressed at work and 82% did not trust the management of the college to plan for the future. Under these conditions, we took part in the 2020 UCU strike. 90.41% of members voted in favour of industrial action on a 72.55% turn out. None of the four issues which affected our members locally or nationally have been dealt with in any meaningful way.
We are in a desperate situation on three fronts:
1. Institutional racism is not being dealt with at the RCA; nor are gender-based and intersectional issues of inequality and discrimination
2. The College has announced a hiring freeze and sweeping cuts regardless of intake which will mean over 200 hourly paid (VL) lecturers, who make up the majority of staff, will likely not be working next year; the remaining staff will therefore have their workload increased, further worsening the already deteriorating student conditions
3. The College refuses to answer letters from UCU head office and is also refusing to release relevant financial data to us in written form, meaning we cannot meaningfully negotiate with them.
As such, we are calling for a vote of no confidence in our Vice Chancellor’s Office (specifically Vice-Chancellor Paul Thompson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost: Professor Naren Barfield and Chief Operating Officer: John Worne). We ask people to help us with the following actions of support:
1. If you are a UCU member please vote here. Members will be sent a login for Choice Voting via email.
3. If you are or have been a staff or student at the RCA and would like to leave anonymous testimony about your experience, please write it here.
4. Please support our cause by downloading these assets and sharing them on social media.
5. For any enquiries email RCAUCU@gmail.com