July 1998 Issue 28
Editorial - Education and Training
We do not aim to give every issue of this Journal a coherent theme, but that is definitely the intention this time. The theme is education and training, but the articles are diverse in character and content. Some reflect on an educational experience -
How does it feel to be a student on placement, an intern at the V&A or an external examiner? How easy is the transition from education to employment?
Others describe research or practice which has formed part of an educational experience. The message which runs through this whole issue, however, is simple and consistent. The V&A Conservation Department takes its rôle in education and training very seriously.
The most obvious and dramatic evidence for this is easy to see in the list of students and interns which appears with the staff list on the back of every issue. The RCA/V&A Conservation Course took its first postgraduate students in 1989. In fact there were only two of them. They certainly made an impact, but could hardly be said to have threatened the Department on a numerical basis. Nine years later, we are contemplating a new academic year (1998/99) with possibly twenty six students. About half of these will be registered for MA degrees and will aim to graduate as competent, educated, specialist, practising conservators. About half will be involved in research for MPhil or PhD.
The students are no longer all based at the V&A. The Course is now at the hub of a small but exciting educational and research network. Current and imminent collaborations involve the Museum of London, the Horniman Museum, the Tate Gallery, Holden Conservation, Imperial College, the Natural History Museum and the RCA Foundry, as well as most of the studios in the V&A Conservation Department. And there are more developments in the pipeline. Despite the spread of locations, disciplines and research areas, all the students spend time in the V&A. The partnership with the College is vital but it is the Museum which most 'feels like home' for the whole Course, as well providing the practical environment for the majority of our students. Twenty six students is not a lot by current educational standards, but it makes for a very substantial presence in a working department where the priority of staff must be to meet the conservation needs of the Museum, rather than the learning needs of the students.
Alongside the students, the Department offers internships and placements. These are taken up by mid course students, recent graduates and staff from other institutions in the UK and abroad. Alongside the students and interns, there are junior staff who have substantial training and educational needs. Indeed, as with any occupation seeking to become a profession, there is a need for continuous skill and knowledge development for all staff. The educational picture does not stop there. The Department has a responsibility to educate and train Museum staff from other areas of the Museum and a broader responsibility to the public. The Course regularly offers elements of its teaching to students and staff from elsewhere.
The alarm bells are ringing. In a climate of financial restraint, decreasing staffing levels, limited opportunity for advancement, increasing emphasis on major museum projects, access rather than preservation, deadlines and more deadlines, how can this investment in education, training and research be justified? Some would say it can't, and occasionally say it forcefully. Of course, I am not one of them, and I am happy and grateful that the Department remains largely populated by staff who believe that, on balance, all this teaching and learning and thinking and experimenting and discovering nourishes rather than depletes. Education, training, research and practice have a symbiotic relationship in a working environment. They all contribute to a healthy organism.
Of course, there is a pragmatic side to this too. Has anyone counted the objects treated by students and interns in the last nine years?