RCA announces new focus on science after an increase in applications from the EU

The Royal College of Art in London has announced plans to expand its science and technology programme, and revealed that student applications from within the European Union have risen in the past year.

The leading art and design school plans to add courses focused on topics like nano-robotics and machine-learning to its offering, as well as embedding scientific collaboration into its existing postgraduate programmes.

This forms part of Generation RCA, a five-year programme announced yesterday by the college's vice-chancellor Paul Thompson, which will also see the college overhaul its teaching facilities and introduce new scholarship programmes.

At the same time, the school revealed that applications from the EU are up 12 per cent, despite the imminent prospect of Brexit.

Embedding scientific disciplines in core subjects

The RCA's stated aim is to "transform the accepted paradigm of an art and design university".

It plans to "reverse the current orthodoxies" by placing artists and designers alongside scientists and engineers at the outset of their research rather than as an afterthought.

To do so, the college will strengthen ties with Imperial College and other London institutions offering science and engineering courses.

It also introduce new courses centred on "nano and soft robotics, computer science and machine learning, materials science and the circular economy".

"This is a move away from the paradigm of the 20th-century art school to a 21st-century trans-disciplinary graduate school," said Thompson. "Our academic vision brings creative arts and design together with science, technology and medicine."

A focus on the sciences marks a move away from the traditional postgraduate art school model that has seen the school teach fine artists including Tracey Emin and David Hockney.

Rise in applicants from the EU for 2019-20 academic year

The news was announced at the same time as the RCA revealed a rise in applications from students in EU countries for programmes starting September 2019.

While the college did not link the two, the move reflects the UK government's current industrial strategy, which places a strong focus on the importance of innovation to the nation's future growth.

Students from 76 countries are currently enrolled at the college, with a quarter of those students coming from the EU. UK and EU students are currently subsidised by the UK government, which allows the RCA to charge a reduced fee for tuition.

As with other UK universities, EU postgraduate students applying to the college for entry in September 2019 will pay the same fees as their UK counterparts for the duration of their course.

It is not yet clear how this will be affected in academic years to come once the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, with or without a deal that settles the terms of exit.

The RCA states that the funding arrangement that puts UK students on a par with those from the EU will "remain the case until the UK government decides otherwise".

New campus will offer studio space for robotics

The focus on scientific research alongside art, technology and design will be led at the new campus in Battersea, designed by Swiss architecture practice Herzog & de Meuron.

The £108 million campus, opposite the art and design school's existing space will provide a further 15,000 square metres of facilities. This will include enhanced workshop and studio space for areas such as materials science, soft robotics, advanced manufacturing and intelligent mobility.

The project was made possible by a large funding injection from the UK government.

"Founded in response to the first industrial revolution, today the RCA stands as the vanguard of a new era in art and design, which promises breakthroughs in robotics, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence," said vice-chancellor Paul Thompson.

Main building will be restored amid new materials focus

Changes to the Grade-II listed Darwin Building at the main Kensington campus which opened in 1961 will commence after 2021, with the aim of rediscovering "the radical nature of this exceptional building". A campus in White City in west London opened in September 2017.

That same year, the college announced the introduction of the Burberry Material Futures Research Group, made possible by a £3 million grant from the Burberry Foundation.

The group applies an interdisciplinary STEAM (integrated science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) approach to inventing sustainable materials "to find solutions to the complex challenges that face the creative industries, such as materials, manufacturing and consumer experience".