Royal College of Art rector apologises for statements about staff

Royal College of Art rector Paul Thompson has apologised for making comments that appeared to blame departing staff for putting the school in "an unnecessary state of jeopardy" and has defended the school's financial position.

In a statement posted on the RCA website tonight, Thompson clarified statements he made in an internal newsletter that suggested the college was facing financial problems and blamed departing tutors for contributing to a cash shortfall.

He apologised for implying that former staff had threatened the security of the college.

"We don't blame individuals for taking up new roles – that is part and parcel of academic life at leading institutions – and I'm sorry if my previous comments appeared to do so," said Thompson.

His newsletter, which was leaked to Dezeen, said that departing tutors had forced the school to suspend its Design Interactions course, causing "considerable upset" among students helping place the school in "an unnecessary state of jeopardy".

"A number of staff moving on in very close succession gave insufficient time to recruit a full programme team to run the new [Design Interactions] first year," said Thompson in his statement today.

"We had to decide that we could deliver the course in 2015/16 to the exacting RCA standards that our students expect. This was a difficult decision, but one we felt we had to make because delivering an excellent student experience is our number one priority."

Thompson also defended the financial position of the school, which, he said, has seen student numbers swell under his leadership.

"Some reports have suggested that this expansion means that each student may have less money spent on them by the RCA. This is factually incorrect," he said. "Academic spend per RCA student in fact increased by eight per cent in 2014/15 over the prior year, even as our student population remained steady."

"The RCA has a robust financial position that means we can continue to invest in world-class teaching and facilities. In 2014/15, the College made an annual surplus of £500,000 on a £40m budget (unaudited), and all surpluses are re-invested to continue to improve the student experience."

The RCA, which was named the world's top-ranking design school earlier this year, has been hit by a series of staff departures, with department and course heads stepping sideways into research roles, taking visiting positions, retiring or resigning.

The Design Interactions course was rocked by the resignation of course head Anthony Dunne and his partner, Design Interactions tutor Fiona Raby, in March this year.

Senior tutor Noam Toran and tutor James Auger left at the end of the last academic year, while electronics tutor Tom Hulbert left in June.

In his internal newsletter, originally sent to RCA staff on 29 July, Thompson said that the college was facing a £750,000 shortfall in income. This was due to a combination of suspending the first year of Design Interactions – which he estimated cost £300,000 – and lower than anticipated numbers of fee-paying students across the RCA. The college has since said that the admissions shortfall has been resolved.

Thompson also said that the college might seek legal advice on whether to take action against staff who leave before the end of their contractual notice period in future.

The RCA has appointed Design Products head Sharon Baurley as acting head of the Design Interactions course, and has said it will announce a new appointment for the position in the near future.

The course encourages students to find applications for developing and speculative technologies within product and industrial design, and alumni include Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and Revital Cohen.

Projects by recent students and graduates include a DIY surgical robot built from 3D printer components, mushroom inhalers that could replace vaccination needles, and a fleet of robots that allowed the public to remotely explore galleries and museums from their computers at home.

The full statement from Paul Thompson published today on the RCA's website: