Around 400 students and staff at the National College of Art and Design attended a meeting this week at which they were addressed by Director Declan McGonagle.

The media was excluded from the meeting – a decision taken by college management – but afterwards it seemed from students and staff that the encounter had done little or nothing to address their concerns.

Some students told RTÉ News that in fact it had made “a lot more people a lot more angry”.

Last week hundreds of students presented Declan McGonagle with a letter accusing college management of “irresponsible actions and policies”.

The letter listed a range of changes that students demanded to be implemented “immediately”.

These demands address additional charges, overcrowding, and a lack of resources – including space – at the college. Staff at the college – including academic staff – have expressed support for the students.

But beyond their concrete demands students are also protesting about something much bigger.

Their letter to Declan McGonagle opened as follows; “It has become evident that the administration’s primary concern at present is the management of revenue, rather than the education and welfare of its students. This shift in the college’s ideology has left current students abandoned and alumni disillusioned about the value of their degrees and the future of contemporary art in Ireland.”

What’s happening at NCAD is part of a wider eruption across third-level campuses internationally.

This week the Guardian newspaper spoke to academics and students in Canada, the Netherlands, and the UK, who are all embroiled in campaigns that look very similar to that of NCAD.

At the London School of Economics and Political Science students have occupied a central administration room since 18 March.

A student interviewed by the Guardian said students were rejecting the commercialisation of education in a college that was “the epitome of the neoliberal university”.

At the University of Amsterdam students have been occupying the university’s main administrative building, calling for transparency and accountability of the university’s decision-making processes.

These are all concerns shared by students and many staff at NCAD. At a meeting last Tuesday students voted to appoint themselves as the new board of NCAD.

With that they moved en masse to occupy the college boardroom for their “first board meeting”, as they put it.

The mood was energetic, supremely confident, and determined. Using a flip chart they discussed the problems they face at the college, and the concerns they have.

Numbers were such that a parallel meeting took place in the nearby staffroom.

The students abandoned the sit-in after several hours. Their ad-hoc leadership saying it was in order to attend a meeting entitled ‘Crisis Aesthetics, Crisis Politics: How Can Artists and Educators Resist?’ on the college campus.

Speakers included leading Marxist academic Professor Terry Eagleton. That meeting was packed, with students, and with staff.

History repeating itself

What’s happening at NCAD may be part of a wider eruption of political activity on student campuses internationally, but NCAD itself is no stranger to protest.

In 1971 students occupied in what was then NCA. Their complaints were similar to today’s. They included a chronic lack of resources, but the students also railed against rules they felt stifled the creativity and individualism required of an artist.

In June of that year RTÉ’s ‘7days’ programme – a precursor to today’s Prime Time – broadcast a special programme on the issue. Students told the programme they were fighting for a “worthwhile” college of art.

Meanwhile, today’s NCAD student protestors tell RTÉ News they are “considering their next move”.

As the Government moves to implement reforms at third-level, and as the impact of austerity continues to bite, will staff or students at other Irish campuses revolt too? It’s not unlikely.

 (Note: The ‘7days’ programme cannot be fully opened on a mobile device)