You can find out more about the The Courtauld Summer University and how to apply here.
After studying at the The Courtauld for both my MA and PhD, and now working as part of the academic staff, I have had many chances to absorb and observe the very special opportunities given to students at The Courtauld. Whether it is learning from world-experts carrying out cutting edge research, having a renowned art collection at your disposal, taking part in many of the great student-led initiatives like the EastWing exhibition or being able to attend lectures from international artists and academics, The Courtauld student experience is entirely unique. When I consider how I have benefited from what The Courtauld has to offer I often can’t believe my luck, but at the same time I am very aware that these chances are out of reach to many young people. The privileges I have gained have made me want to share my skills, knowledge and passion with the widest audience possible.
Supported by the team in the Public Programmes department, I have gradually built up experience delivering public talks, leading schools’ workshops and delivering out-reach sessions, ‘Art History in the Classroom’, in state schools around London. All of this stood me in good stead for the task of co-ordinating the Widening Participation Courtauld Summer University this July, with Stephanie Hesz, who was then Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator. The Summer University – a four-day taster course of life as an undergraduate at The Courtauld - was aimed at state school students, from non-traditional higher education backgrounds (in other words, in many cases these young people would be the first in their family to go to university) or from economically deprived neighbourhoods. Traditionally, History of Art departments have struggled to attract a diverse student body. This problem is now more acute following the rises in fees and the rhetoric of some politicians and certain sections of the media, which suggest that a humanities degree is an indulgent way to spend £27,000. While this is a widely acknowledged issue that universities are working to address, in practice it can be a real challenge to reach out to young people who may not even know that our discipline exists, let alone those who may not think it is the subject for them. But as Stephanie, Henrietta and I read through the application forms, we were struck by the enthusiasm, commitment and intelligence of all our applicants, who were keen to come and see what The Courtauld offers.
As the Summer University approached, we were thrilled at the willingness of the academic and gallery staff and postgraduate and undergraduate students to volunteer their time. The Summer University students attended stimulating and challenging seminars on a wide range of topics, from medieval images of heaven, to the portraits we carry in our pockets. We also took the students to see the newly unveiled rehang at Tate Britain and a show of Cornelia Parker’s work at the Frith Street Gallery. It was satisfying to see how the students gained in confidence as they discussed works of art in galleries, seminars and in their brilliant and witty picture essays, which they presented to us at the end of the week.
Last year’s Summer University and the other widening participation programmes that took place in 2012-2013 have already produced some heartening results, with a number of students choosing to apply to and then achieving places on the undergraduate degree course starting this September. For me though, the wider aims of the programme – raising aspirations, inspiring confidence and awakening enthusiasm for our subject – go beyond fulfilling our obligation to HEFCE and OFFA. The Courtauld prides itself on educating the art historians and curators of tomorrow, therefore we need to ensure that our student body welcomes the widest range of voices if we want to continue to enjoy History of Art as a vibrant, global and evolving subject.
This article was originally published in The Courtauld News in 2013.