Cutting foundation courses will lead to “simplistic education”, says art school dean

The art college’s associate dean of pre-degree has spoken out about the importance of one-year foundation courses in providing students with “excitement, variety and experimentation”.

Plymouth College of Art

Closing foundation art and design courses will result in “simplistic” routes into creativity that do not offer the “richness and excitement” that students currently benefit from, says an associate dean from Plymouth College of Art.

Matias Shortcook, associate dean of pre-degree at the college, has spoken out to Design Week about the cutting of foundations, following institutions such as Falmouth University and Norwich University of the Arts dropping their courses. Falmouth’s was dropped last year, while Norwich’s was dropped in 2005, according to a spokesperson at the university.

Studying creative subjects will become “ticking boxes”

Shortcook has concerns that studying art and design will become about “dutifully following instructions” and “ticking boxes” if students are left to follow a more traditional educational path.

“Without foundation courses, you’ll get a set of very dogmatic, simplistic investigations into the world – and design isn’t that,” says Shortcook.

“Design needs variety, multiplicity and excitement,” he continues. “To chart a simplistic educational course from GCSEs to A-Levels straight into a degree does not give the richness that many students benefit from.”

Shortcook has spoken to Design Week in light of Plymouth College of Art’s plans to open a new building dedicated to its Foundation Diploma in Art and Design.

Plymouth College of Art, Palace Court

Palace Studios is due to open August 2017, and will include two studio spaces alongside a courtyard social area. It will sit next to Palace Court; the college’s dedicated pre-degree campus for 16-19-year-olds, which opened last year.

The Foundation Diploma in Art and Design is a low-fee, or often free, year-long course that acts as an intermediary for many design students between college and university.

Foundations offer “a year of vital experimentation”

Foundation Diplomas in the UK are run at multiple universities, but often awarded by University of the Arts London (UAL), as is the case with Plymouth College of Art’s diploma.

They offer students the opportunity to try different creative disciplines, such as graphics, advertising, fashion design, textiles and fine art, which gives them “a year of vital experimentation” and “confidence”, says Shortcook.

“A foundation allows students to explore and touch upon different art and design forms, before going into an undergraduate and refining that,” he says. “It’s like 100 foundation courses in one. Students then arrive at their degree confident that it is the right one for them, and are therefore happier.”

Government cuts have resulted in closing of courses

Shortcook adds that Government cuts to funding towards the arts have “certainly informed the decision” to close courses.

Universities have seen funding slashed in recent years, with humanities and the arts bearing the brunt as the Government focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.

Universities such as UAL and Goldsmiths were hit by cuts in 2011, while Falmouth University’s director of communications Robert Hillier confirmed last year that the university’s foundation course was closed because it was “expensive to run”.

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  • Kevin Harley April 25, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Birmingham City University cut the Foundation Course in Art and Design in 2014. Having taught at both FE and HE levels I have first hand evidence that the students who completed a Foundation Course are much better equipped to undertake Degree level work.

  • anaesthetic April 25, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    The entire rotten edifice of art education is in dire need of root and branch reform from primary school to PHD. It is no longer suitable for purpose and fine art education has become a meaningless arcane farce generating producers of kitsch and not artists.

  • Mark Harvey April 26, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Foundation Courses are vital, because they provide a venue for the exploration required for students to successfully persue subsequent studies creatively.

  • Nick Lento May 1, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Entrenched establishments are threatened by any kind of education that feeds and amplifies the potential for truly independent, creative, intelligent and courageous citizens. What establishments want from education is well trained, well indoctrinated, we conditioned drones who will follow orders and be loyal “willing” even enthusiastic slaves to maintaining the existing status quo. At the extremes this yields the kind of society and governing structures we see in today’s North Korea but it starts with the moves like the one referenced above which narrows the scope of a wholistic liberal arts education. It’s not really about the money/resources, it’s about social degradation in service to entrenched morally and ethically and spiritually corrupt establishments.

  • Bill Kenney May 2, 2017 at 11:40 am

    Matias is correct, Foundation is without doubt a key factor in the strength and diversity that still exists in arts education in the UK. It is absolutely an example of best practice and should not continually be under threat or face actual closure.

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