The Royal College of Art’s (RCA) student body is demanding that the London school suspend or postpone all courses as well as annual degree shows until it is safe for students to resume their education. The backlash follows the college’s decision to move all curricula and exhibitions online because of COVID-19. Students claim that RCA did not first consult with the graduating class before making the announcement on the school’s website and that many were unable to finish their works since they no longer have access to studios and classrooms at the college.

In a letter that was sent to RCA’s senior management, the students wrote: “There should be an immediate pause in all educational activity. Courses should only resume when it is safe for face-to-face meetings, and students have the ability to utilize both studios and workshops, both collaboratively and independently, without fear, uncertainty and guilt. We are adamant that this is the only way to prepare and deliver the highest standard of our degree show, that represents both ourselves and the reputation of the RCA. . . .We believe this action is integral not only to ensure the safety of ourselves, loved ones and wider society but also to upholding the integrity of the agreement we have entered into with the Royal College of Art.”

Nearly 6,000 individuals, including Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey, signed a petition titled “Save our degree show” that is now circulating on change.org. While the students who initiated the campaign chose to remain anonymous, one of the organizers called the college’s plan to stage a virtual exhibition as a major disappointment in an interview with The Guardian. Another said that the degree show would be “impossible to simulate online.”

While a RCA representative told The Guardian that the college considered rescheduling degree shows for the fall but that it ultimately believed pushing the exhibitions back that far was “not realistically feasible.” The spokesperson added, “One significant difficulty is that many students will be unable to stay in London for that extended period. To commit them to the significant additional costs that would be involved, and further costs to return to London in the future with the present level of uncertainty seems unreasonable. The latest reports from the World Health Organization and others suggest that life will not have returned to normal by September.”

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