THE student legal challenge at Scotland’s most famous art school could create a blueprint for UK-wide action against universities, campaigners say.

More than 100 postgraduate students at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) are preparing a class action lawsuit over what they call GSA’s “failure to provide the education we paid for” after collecting thousands of pounds in a crowdfunder. According to the Pause or Pay campaign that’s supporting them, they’re now at the head of a UK-wide push for redress by at students who say they’ve been let down by their institutions.

If it’s successful, the campaign will create a paint-by-numbers approach that others can follow, potentially resulting in significant changes in the higher education sector.

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The campaign wants art school bosses to reimburse those who have lost learning time due to the pandemic or allow them to defer graduation to make up for lost time and opportunity.

Further challenges are expected to follow at a range of schools, including Edinburgh College of Art, Pause or Pay says. A group from Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee has also joined the network, as have others from Central Saint Martins in London, Liverpool Hope University and Manchester School of Art. An organiser told the Sunday National: “GSA are first up, but there are more complaints.

“We are hoping this provides a precedent for how universities and how regulatory bodies treat these kinds of cases.”

Drawn from a range of disciplines, the 126-strong Masters group accuses the Garnethill school of a catalogue of failures which they say cost them access to studios, learning, support and career opportunities in 2020, when the high-profile, end-of-year degree show moved online in response to Covid. The showcase is one of the most important events in the Scottish art calendar and, with an audience including collectors and gallerists, can launch careers.

The students paid fees of around £8000 – rising to £20,000 for international course members – and say that the cancellation of seven weeks’ worth of sessions when lockdown began in March left them short-changed, with coursework and essays cancelled and the submission of new work ruled out. Contact with tutors, they report, was off for two and a half months and while many had “no way” of making work at home, they were advised to adapt and charged full rates.

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GSA refused student calls for a suspension of studies, pending a safe return to campus-based learning, or a partial refund. When they complained to the higher education ombudsman the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) , it criticised GSA’s “arrangements for managing academic standards and the student learning experience” and said steps should be taken to improve student support, assessment and “consistency” across GSA operations.

Without action, GSA’s academic standards would be placed at risk, it was said. Responding, GSA director Penny Macbeth said the school was committed to providing “the best creative education and high-level art school experience”.

Going under the name Art School Racket, the group has engaged law firm Harper Macleod and, with £3700 in the pot, is preparing for a fundraising auction to generate more. It’s expected within the next fortnight and will include lots donated by GSA alumnus, architect Professor Alan Dunlop. He’s described the treatment of students as “despicable”.

Harriet Orrey-Godden of Art School Racket, which is still seeking auction lots, said the challenge is “about the bigger picture”. The painter, who relocated from Manchester to attend GSA, said: “I thought I was shooting for the stars – Glasgow School of Art, the most renowned art school. When I got in, I thought it was incredible. This is not at all what I thought I would be doing. No-one really wants to be doing this.

“The student position is that we don’t really have any say on things. Covid pretty much cracked that open and exposed it for what it was; they can change the course and say ‘that’s tough, but you have to pay the same amount of money’.

“It’s not just a few students who have had a bad experience, we have had so many messages from current students and alumni. We are the first ones to get to this stage, but I don’t think we’ll be the only ones.”

A spokesperson for the GSA said: “While we are aware of the fundraising we have not been approached to discuss this by these 2020 graduates or their representatives.

“Their issues were raised through the GSA’s complaints process and were thoroughly investigated.

“The final stage of the process is for the complainants to ask the independent Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to review the matter, which we understand they did, and that the SPSO agreed with the GSA.”