NCAD students occupy boardroom in protest over resources

Demonstration held after college director Declan McGonagle cancelled discussion

Nearly 300 students gathered at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) today calling for improvements in the education and welfare of students at the institution.

Scores of students crowded into the college boardroom at 1 pm after NCAD director Declan McGonagle cancelled a discussion event with students.

A student group had brought a letter of demands to the director’s office last Friday, calling for the reversal of “irresponsible decisions” made by college management.

Demands in the letter included a call for extra resources to match the increase in numbers of first-year students, evidence that fees had been used to contribute to studio and material costs, and a reversal of fees inflation for one of the MA courses.

“This has been coming for about six years now,” said Eimear Walshe, an MA student at NCAD and one of the organisers of the protest. She says the students are against “underfunding, overcrowding, the mismanagement of accounts and miscommunication”.

“Our problem isn’t specifically with the lack of funding,” she said. “It’s with the mismanagement of the funds that we have.”

Ms Walshe and a number of other students, including the student union president and vice-president, had warned that they would “escalate their protest” if the director’s response to their demands was “not adequate”.

‘NCAD See the Future’

The protest organisers, who go under the name NCAD See the Future, sent a memo to the student body saying they had lost confidence in the “ordinary hierarchical forums for discussion” in the college.

The group told students they were still awaiting “an adequate response” to their demands from Mr McGonagle, adding that the director’s decision to withdraw from the meeting demonstrated “a lack of confidence in himself and an outrageous disrespect for students”.

Mr McGonagle said he had arranged to discuss the students’ demands with a group of elected representatives and student union members, but pulled out of the meeting after realising the discussions were being organised by another group and not by the student reps.

“I met with the student’s union this morning and they’re my first port of call because that’s the proper channel,” said Mr McGonagle, who said he’s now proposing to meet the entire student body on Wednesday to discuss their demands through “communication rather than confrontation”.

Mr McGonagle said the college has had to increase its intake of students by 33 per cent over the past three years due to national education policies.

“[The students are] feeling the pinch. The reasons around increasing student numbers are both educational but also economic, so our resource space is dependent on student numbers.”

Mr McGonagle said there is “a huge amount of confusion” around changes made to NCAD’s teaching programme and spending in recent years.

“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.”