Each year the V&A welcomes hundreds of thousands of university students, highlighting the important role the Museum plays in the Higher Education (HE) community. The HE audience is very diverse, comprising undergraduates, postgraduates, mature students, researchers and tutors, all studying and working at a wide range of institutions operating in very different ways. Museum collections can act as inspiration for students of creative disciplines as well as offering primary sources and original artefacts to those studying History or Art & Design History. The V&A is not just about the objects on display and in store, it is also about the expertise of its staff (available by appointment) and its archives (accessible via Reading Rooms at Blythe House in Kensington Olympia).
The V&A has had a connection with Higher Education from its foundation and our collections were initially assembled as a teaching resource for the Schools of Design, later to become the Royal College of Art (RCA). Today the V&A is both a resource for HE students and an academic research institution. The Museum runs a Masters programme in the History of Design with the RCA as well as offering a large number of academic fellowships and research projects.
The V&A’s approach to working with the HE audience has been informed by the recent research and findings of the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning through Design (CETLD) project, a partnership between the V&A, University of Brighton, the RCA and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The experience of this project has made us even more aware of the different approaches required by students according to their stage of study and has highlighted how many more students could be profitably engaging with museums.
In the digital age where students are increasingly reliant on the Internet for their information the V&A’s website is a rich resource. High resolution images are free to download via Search the Collections and all our object records will soon be available online (a large proportion have already been added). Students and tutors can consult the catalogues of the National Art Library and reserve books in advance or look at what works on paper are available to view close-up in the Museum’s Print and Drawings Study Room. There are scholarly articles available in the V&A’s Online Journal, the Conservation Journal and on many other sections of the website, plus films and audio files relating to popular areas of design, including fashion, architecture, illustration and photography. Those studying travel, tourism or museology can also access material about how the Museum is run.
Museums also offer the sometimes-neglected benefit of first-hand experience. Art and Design students do not always think to use museums for conducting visual research and yet they are ideal for this purpose. At the V&A we provide portable stools for sketching as well as benches in many galleries, and photography is allowed almost everywhere with the exception of temporary exhibitions and the Raphael Cartoons gallery (a condition of the Cartoons being on loan from HM the Queen). The varied nature of the collections allows those lateral connections which are so important to creativity – for instance, students of many other subjects besides Ceramics or 3-D Design can find ideas and inspiration within the Ceramics gallery.
We aim to make our academic programme of conferences, symposia and study days as accessible as possible to students by offering a much-reduced student rate, plus concessions on many other events and for individual students visiting exhibitions. Groups of students attending exhibitions with their tutors can also gain free entry if they pre-book as a group, and we offer induction sessions to the Museum’s resources for HE groups upon request.