ONE of Scotland’s leading architects has called Glasgow School of Art’s approach to its students as “despicable” and accused the institution of leaving them floundering at a key point in their education.

Prof. Alan Dunlop has also thrown his support behind one group’s plans to mount a legal challenge over the art school’s handling of their courses in the wake of 2018’s devastating second fire at the world-famous Mackintosh building and the pandemic.

Prof. Dunlop, a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and the Royal Society of Arts and who trained at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, said he also believes the world-renowned school of art has lost its crown as Scotland’s leading art college.

He says the school, which has produced acclaimed art talents such as Jenny Saville, Joan Eardley, Alison Watt and Peter Howson, is now trailing behind Dundee as Scotland’s leading art institution.

The architect and artist, whose work includes the Radisson Blu hotel in Glasgow and whose drawings have been exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, criticised the art school for continuing to demand full fees for classes from students while placing their future careers “in jeopardy”.

He is now to gift two of his original sketches to be auctioned as part of 2019/2020 Master’s cohorts’ crowdfunding campaign to help pay for legal action against the art school.

The students say they paid upwards of £8000 for their course – with international students paying in the region of £20,000 – yet went weeks without lectures as tutors staged a strike and then as classes were scrapped due to the pandemic.

They have also criticised the studio space they were given to work in, and say they lost important opportunities to collaborate with fellow students, and network with art collectors and gallery owners after their degree show was placed online.

As a result, they say their GSA experience left them feeling cheated and “with our future careers compromised”.

Alongside the students’ complaints is continued concern over the lack of clarity over the scale of the damage to the world-famous Mackintosh building, what can be salvaged from the structure and how it might either be rebuilt or a new building constructed around it.

Prof. Dunlop, who attended the Mackintosh School of Architecture between 1983 and 1986, called for more openness from GSA leaders over the future of the fire-damaged building.

The art school has indicated it will not comment until after the publication of a fire service investigation which is not expected to be complete until later this year.

He said: “They are making all kinds of mistakes and annoying all kinds of people.

“This is a building with an international profile. You can’t not give any information when people are desperate for information.”

He added that the Masters students had been let down, and raised concern over the level of online teaching made available to current students.

“Thirty years in teaching has taught me that art cannot be taught remotely or on Zoom. You need studio access, direct tutor contact and the support of your peers.

“Students are really suffering as a consequence, while being asked to pay full funds. It is despicable.”

He said he had compared the level of communication and access to lectures offered to one first-year art school student with an accountancy student at another university. While the accountancy student received daily correspondence, he “could count on one hand” the number of lectures the art student had been given.

He added that since April, GSA had sent the student just two emails, one asking for fees, the other reminding her to enrol for her course.

“I have spoken to students who say that they chose Glasgow School of Art over any other place because of the strong environment. They want to be part of that and to have direction from tutors,” he added.

“Instead, students have had to struggle along by themselves. I don’t accept that it’s all because of the pandemic.

“They (GSA) have to accept that art can’t be taught remotely. You need face to face access to tutors and to be bouncing off each other, not isolated on your own.”

He said he now feels guilty for recently steering one student towards studying at Glasgow School of Art, adding: “Dundee has an excellent reputation as an art school, and I would say at the moment it is the top art school in Scotland.

“I’m an alumnus of GSA and I want it to be the best in the world. I want it to up its game so that no matter what the future of the building may be, it is still recognised as the best art school.”

He has now offered students from the 2019/2020 Master’s cohort a pick of sketches that he completed during lockdown to help with their legal costs.

The works include a drawing of Glasgow School of Art as it may have looked in June 1910, and another depicting the day after the 2018 blaze, with crowds gathered in Renfield Street watching firefighters douse the smouldering building.

The sketches will form part of an online auction that will also include work from the GSA Masters students and other artists.

Sculptor Penny Anderson, who graduated with an MLitt in Sculpture last year, said she had spent around £15,000 on course fees and living expenses but was left disappointed by the experience and heartbroken for her fellow students.

“There were students who had come from the other side of the world to study at GSA and made monumental changes to their lives to be there. Some people are now in debt to their families because they chose to go to GSA,” she added.

While Harriet Orrey-Gordon, who moved from Manchester to study for her Master’s in painting, said the experience had left her “exhausted”.

“People go to Glasgow School of Art because of its reputation. We were left feeling quite lost.

“These are practical courses but it was a case of ‘like it or lump it’.”

The students say they will use a report from the higher education ombudsman, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), which looked into their complaints and criticised GSA’s “arrangements for managing academic standards and the student learning experience” to support their legal challenge.

Asked for a response, Glasgow School of Art's public relations firm referred to a previous comment which said: “The complaints in questions went through the GSA’s complaints process, the final of stage of which is for the complainants to ask the independent Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to review the matter.”