Students Plan to Sue the Glasgow School of Art for Canceling Their Degree Show and Cutting Off Studio Access During the Pandemic

The school “failed to deliver the education they promised and kept thousands of pounds in student fees,” the cohort argues.

The Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Students at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) in Scotland are planning to take legal action against the institution because, they say, it withheld crucial educational resources during the 2020 shutdown and failed to provide refunds. 

A group of graduate-level artists was roughly halfway through their 12-month program when the school went into lockdown in March of 2020. The respected art academy boasts Turner Prize winners Douglas Gordon and Martin Boyce as alumni. 

Just days after the campus closed, GSA announced that it had canceled the remaining seven weeks of the semester. The students said they lost access to their equipment and work spaces. The group’s degree show, a selling point of the program known for drawing dealers, curators, and other art world professionals, was canceled outright. 

Now, the cohort is moving ahead with plans to sue GSA for the ordeal. They first announced their decision in a statement released last month, saying that the school “failed to deliver the education they promised and kept thousands of pounds in student fees.”

“We left feeling cheated, with our future careers compromised,” the statement read.

Several artists spearheading the effort have now retained a law firm and say they are awaiting their case to be filed in Scottish court. 

Our legal action is regrettable but, given our treatment, utterly predictable,” sculptor Penny Anderson said in an email to Artnet News. The artists also announced plans for a crowdfunding campaign to cover the legal fees, which will go live when the suit is filed.

In their July statement, the group claimed to have brought their complaints to GSA’s administration on numerous occasions over the past year. They called on the school to offer one of two forms of recourse: a program pause, which would give students back the time they lost and allow them to resume work when safe to do so; or a partial refund of tuition fees. According to the group, the institution declined both options.

The artists then brought their concerns to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), an independent agency that conducts the final stage for complaints about public service organizations in the country. The SPSO ultimately sided with the school. 

In a statement to Artnet News, a spokesperson for the institution confirmed that the “complaints in questions went through the GSA’s complaints process.” The representative declined to address the students’ allegations and plan to sue.

“We were treated as if all of our demands were unreasonable, and not as if we had paid a great deal for access to studios and staff time,” Anderson said. “Everything was inadequate, begrudged, and poorly resourced.”

It’s been a tough couple of years for GSA, one of the U.K.’s most prominent art schools. In 2018, a major fire erupted at the institution’s historic Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed building—marking the second time the century-old structure had burned down in the span of just four years.

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