First Hand — “We are learning more from each other than from uni”: Three students reflect on life at art school right now
For many, life at art school has certainly felt a little different this year. The UK’s second lockdown has impacted almost every aspect of university life – from an increasing dependence on online learning and virtual tutorials to limited access to physical workshops and tutorials. So with a term under lockdown slowly wrapping up, we’re checking in with three students, to ask how the pandemic has changed not only the way they learn and work, but how they feel about life post-graduation.
Neeraj Kainth: “I miss group crits”
Neeraj Kainth is a third year Graphic Communication student at Birmingham City University
Losing spontaneous interactions
“This term has definitely been difficult for both students and staff. At BCU we’re fortunate enough to have access to facilities like the printmaking room, workshops and photography studios through a booking system. But everything is so regimented; there’s only so much you can talk about in a short one-to-one tutorial with a tutor. I miss group crits and the small conversations you’d have with lecturers and students when walking around the studio. It’s those small interactions that made design courses so unique.
Remote check-ins have helped
“One of the sad things about uni life at the moment is that all year groups aren’t interacting with each other, as we’re staying in our teaching bubbles. Instead, we have activities running remotely and in small teaching bubbles, to maintain social distancing. One of our lecturers, Jane Anderson, launched a weekly video call titled ‘Coffee Lounge’. The idea was to get all years of Graphic Communication together and talking about design and sharing their work. I know myself and many students have really enjoyed these sessions and found them incredibly informative.
Unis need to cater for all needs
“I also think universities need to take into account that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ policy when it comes to running courses during a pandemic. Some students may be shielding, or are living with vulnerable family members, so they might feel safer online. It is the university’s responsibility to take these factors into account and cater to different students’ needs.
Hopes for industry solidarity
“Graduating is already quite a daunting and uncertain time as a student. Hearing about people losing their jobs, and alumni struggling to find work can be very worrying. Many of us are probably still asking the same question students asked themselves even before the pandemic: “Am I going to get a job?” Having said that, I do think the design industry has reacted in a great way by offering remote internships, portfolio crits, and accessible online talks – there has definitely been a sense of community! No one knows when life will get back to ‘normal’ so I’d love to see the enthusiasm and support shown to the class of 2020 continue for the class of 2021.”
BCU Graphics: instagram.com/bcu_graphics
BCU Print Club: instagram.com/bcuprintclub
Type Talks: instagram.com/bcutypetalks
Jane Anderson: currentstate.co.uk/projects
Gaebriel Min: “The past term was mediocre at best”
Gaebriel Min is a third year Graphic Communication student at UCA Farnham
A mediocre start to the year
“Overall, the past term has been mediocre at best. If it weren’t for my classmates right now, I don’t think I’d feel it was worth it to finish my degree. Last year we had over ten hours of contact time on campus, now I am only on campus for two hours during any one week.
Access to resources is limited
“Instead of having pin-up crits, we use an app called InVision which is testing at best. This makes it hard to really have a constructive conversation about our work. In practicals, we aren’t allowed to have workshops as they break Covid regulations, which makes our final year feel very flat.
“So far, it feels like we aren’t getting as much out of the year. As a part of my usual research process, I like to browse libraries for hours – it really helps to engage my brain – but we aren’t allowed to spend time in our library as per regulation. I’ve tried replicating this on Google, but it does not have the same effect.
Learning more from peers than uni
“On the other hand, our cohort group chat has never been more active. We ask each other for feedback, critique each others’ work, and set up Zoom workshops via Skillshare. Last year, it was really hard to get any of us to talk to each other in class, and now I have to turn off the notifications on our group chat because of how often we’re talking. However, it feels as if we are learning more from each other than we are from uni; it makes it hard to know that we are essentially paying over £9,000 for a Facebook messenger group chat.”
Katie Scott: “I put all my energy into making”
Katie Scott is a third year illustration and visual media student at London College of Communication
Restrictions have built problem-solving skills
“This past term has been a real challenge, but I have always enjoyed the problem-solving that comes with restrictions – you come to know your limits, but also discover new interest and ways of working. With or without the pandemic, this has always been the reality for artists – particularly when it comes to budgeting and space.
Making as a way of coping
“Over the last few months I have just put all of my energy into making, and that has really separated the sombreness of the situation for me. I feel really grateful for that. The way I work now feels very much like a freelance artist – this has actually been a valuable period of managing my time and outsourcing facilities and materials. It really prepares you for the years after higher education.
Adapting to online has been tough
“LCC has really put a lot of effort into creating online forums to help students as much as possible. The navigation around them is sometimes confusing, however it was never going to be easy to adapt so quickly. Learning online has been one of the downsides of this, as you have to articulate your work in a completely different way. I like touching and seeing work in a physical space which is a beautiful dichotomy in the digital world we live in today. We’re only allowed on campus two days a week, and having limited periods with technicians has also been a huge strain in my final year.
Preparing for a no-show graduation
“The prospect of leaving university without having a physical degree show is something I will be a little disappointed about. It’s really valuable to have the industry exposure and it’s also something really special to look back on. Despite this, I am making plans to showcase my film and photography work without university as a vehicle.
“I’m trying to adopt a more ‘can-do’ approach and not feel too confined by thinking about what the future holds, which we can never be truly certain of. I’m very lucky to be where I am and have what I have – that should be enough for the time being. These kinds of affirmations are so important to remind yourself in the day-to-day.
Unis would benefit from more external collaborations
“I think that restrictions and the limited access to university will be detrimental over a long period of time. Perhaps institutions across the board should be looking at partnerships with external businesses to provide workshops and opportunities with creative spaces. It would be lovely to see students and institutions working together at this time, sharing knowledge and valuable resources.”