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Portfolio Advice Day - 5 December 2006

Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
5 December 2006 00:00

Portfolio Advice Day, held recently at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, was part of the Government’s drive to open up further and higher education to students from non-traditional backgrounds. An Arts Aimhigher London project, it involved tutors from a range of art and design colleges - including University of the Arts, London; University for the Creative Arts; the University of Brighton; Kingston University; and the Arts Institute Bournemouth - providing advice, insight and guidance to students from schools and further education colleges. It was not intended as a recruitment event for individual higher education institutions, but meant to raise awareness of the subject areas and increase the self-confidence of applicants.

This was a great day, with the ICA bursting with energy and life, and with many students experiencing the venue for the first time.
Recent studies of university choice indicate that issues of class, the complexity of application procedures, and the lack of good sources of impartial knowledge are the main limiting factors in students’ choices of course and institution when they approach higher education.

Two tutors describe the day:

Luce Choules, Graphics Lecturer, Kingston University

I find myself thinking that if each major town or city promoted an event such as the Portfolio Advice Day, many more students would find it easier and more helpful to discuss aspects of portfolio submission. My 'call for action' on the evaluation sheet for this latest success at the ICA, was ‘imagine if this event was countrywide…’.

For the most part, I felt that I had taken part in a highly constructive day. It was well organised and thoughtfully conceived, with very attentive student helpers delivering bottles of water for our parched throats in addition to acting as stewards. I also met some fantastic people from other institutions, and as I am fairly new to HE teaching I learned a great deal by observing my temporary colleagues between advice sessions.

My only slight disappointment was that a small number of students had no portfolio of work with them to discuss, and in the absence of a body of work I could give only abstract advice.

At one point during the afternoon session, I saw a nervous young man who introduced himself immediately as someone who didn’t want to go straight from school into a university course – ‘the route [he] was expected to take’. He mentioned that his teacher had suggested he apply anyway, and then defer for a year or two. He felt this was misleading advice and that he would only be a ‘statistic’ for his school’s university application record. He wanted to be employed for a year or two instead, and didn’t want to attend an interview knowing that his ‘heart wasn’t in it’.

Although he displayed a promising portfolio of work, I found myself forced to suggest that he apply to University at a later date, with the proviso that he might need to attend an evening class to keep his work up to date. He was surprisingly relieved and said it was the first time that he thought that HE study was an option for him. The sadness from my perspective was that he appeared to be a natural learner, with strong ideas, integrity and dedication – just the kind of student that one would want to see at interview.

The above observations by no means reflect all the day’s activities, but the experience did prompt me to wonder whether FE tutors might appreciate a seminar or conference event to share information with HE tutors involved in the interview process as part of a mutual exchange programme.

In particular the event would discuss the expectations that HE places on school-learners to ‘show’ accumulated knowledge in building an Art & Design portfolio – documenting a history of thinking and influences, presenting concept development, and demonstrating the production of a cohesive body of work.

Lawrence Zeegen, Academic Project Leader, University of Brighton

Getting involved in the Portfolio Advice Day at the ICA was a way of dealing directly with some of the issues facing young candidates in art and design who want to embark on study in Higher Education. Reviewing work informally, while offering impartial and practical advice to students who are keen and motivated but often under-prepared and poorly informed, should help make a positive difference in their applications and in the quality of their portfolios.

Working alongside colleagues from other well-regarded courses and institutions, rather than competing with them, was invaluable too – we all worked together to promote the range of disciplines in art and design and the diversity of approaches to each subject.

Much lip-service is paid to widening participation in Higher Education these days, and here was a real opportunity to help make a difference. For me and two of my staff team, it was a challenging yet rewarding day – book me again next year!

It is hoped that the Portfolio Advice Day will be the basis of a broader national initiative that will include the production of a range of resource materials for both staff and students across related disciplines.


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