The Worth Of Your NCAD Degree



Further to ongoing protests among students at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin

Seanán Kerr writes:

So with NCAD being in the news and all that here’s something that suddenly has become somewhat topical.

Firstly I see some articles about students questioning the worth of their degrees, this is a good question, I was asking it ten years ago, back when the college was (relatively) flush with funding, but students demanding essentially the same education I got, frankly aren’t being demanding enough.

Speaking to staff and students over the years you hear two types of problem, old ones and new ones, it’s the new ones that have captured the ire of the moment, but it’s the old ones that grate the most, as they are specific and particular to art college itself.

So here’s a proposition, based on experience of art college (including a year in the Union), the art world, a few trips around the entreprenurial ecosystem merry-go-round, research, experience etc.

I gave the talk (above) in October 2014, sketched out the programme over the Summer after hearing the same old complaints, but worse, from people in the place.It remains, to my mind, very doable (2016 anyone?)

It’s essentially an ‘art-up’ accelerator, but that’s a horrible term to call anything so I call it ‘Special Circumstance’ instead (little tribute there to Iain M. Banks).

Would be interested to know what YOUR READERS think of it as a concept (yes I know it’s a bit on the long side, but it does contain jokes, some by a famous comedian), you can skip the intro stuff at 3.13 (unless you want to hear the very nice Dr. Paul O’Brien say some very nice things or see me swear a few times trying to get the projector to work).


Previously: Supporting The Students of NCAD

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42 thoughts on “The Worth Of Your NCAD Degree

    1. SOMK

      No not start-up everything, don’t be silly. The model for start ups is you build a scalable repeatable business to the point where a VC buys it off you for 5-10 million, assuming they can make ten times that again back. It’s not really sustainable as far as I can see. The only countries where everyone is an entrepreneur are third world ones.

    2. scottser

      Well, you can get to masters and no-one’s gonna show you where the research money is, how to cost and prepare proposals etc. The college keeps a very tight grip on all that.

  1. Mayor Quimby

    but, but…. Broadsheet told us that the Irish Water logo could have been knocked up for $5 on!!

    don’t start pontificate on the worth of a degree from NCAD when you slated the value offered from a modest €20k Corporate Identity Design. You sh@t on a bunch of designers when you took that line so don’t weasel out of it now

      1. Mayor Quimby

        Broadsheet and USI took the usual umbrage at Irish Water spending 20k on a logo.

        At which NCAD students took umbrage – because it was obviously saying their profession wasn’t worth jack – you can outsource their profession to some randomer who will do the same work for $5

        1. MajorThrill

          Not even “do the same work” so much as “Reproduce it in photoshop while ignoring the entire design and consultation process without regard for how the minor and arbitrary changes can alter how the logo is seen and perceived”

        2. Con Kennedy

          Research it again. It was DIT students that were highlighting how USI was undermining students, their degrees and future professions. The NCAD do not have a monopoly on creative education.

  2. jeremy kyle

    To be honest, I did 4 years of graphic designer, I’m studying illustration now.

    I can honestly say I don’t put that much value in art college and other people I know who are very talented (some who’ve been showcased here on BS) feel the same.

    My own opinion is that 95% of the education I have gotten over the years has been through my own experience, practice and hard work outside of the classroom. At the end of the day, you have to figure out your own path. I’ve seen plenty of people just do the assignments and come out with the degree and still have no clue what they’re doing. The degree is important, but your portfolio is infinitely more important.

    All I can do, is go into my room and draw as much each day that my sanity will allow and sometimes the pressure to get better can stifle you and fupp you up so the thing you love and want to do becomes turns into a noose around your neck that chokes you with uncertainty and self doubt. But, you can’t afford to give up because you’ve devoted so much to it.

    So if you feel you’re not getting your money’s worth from a course and you’re not happy with how it’s run then while it is very understandable to be pissed off – it’s also quite common to feel to way. Just put your head down and focus on yourself the rest is just a distraction.

    Apologies if I’m talking absolute bollocks, but since it’s “topical”, I felt like chiming in.

      1. Janet

        Yep 4 years of art college , I’d say that’s good advice Sir. The most interesting aspect was access to hardware and if that’s not happening it defeats the purpose.

    1. SOMK


      Well I kind of see this as giving people a platform to precisely take the initiative, get an idea, refine it, plan it, fund it, build it. Figure out how the world works by giving it a poke and seeing what happens.

      It’s not really about making people better employees or designers, or artists. That’s either innate, or it comes through practice.

      “Just put your head down and focus on yourself the rest is just a distraction.”

      A society and culture of people focusing on themselves, isn’t a desirable or happy one. You have your whole life to focus on yourself, we’re awash in a kind of permanent narcistic fog of perpetual and ever re-newing identiy, it’s the one common denominator after all (assuming you don’t have split personality syndrome, which you don’t, because it doesn’t exist), but when you see any artifact or event of any degree of complication it comes about from the result of more than one person.

      1. SOMK

        The headline and all probably makes it seem I’m way more bitter than I am, which isn’t very bitter at all really.

        Put it this way…

        I mention it the old video, but last year I was a member of this film making group, the way it’s work it they’d make about one or two films a year, stuff got done but it was inefficient. So I proposed doing regular 24 hour projects, one of the reasons behind this is seeing how inefficient egoism can makes thing, people don’t trust each other, nothing gets done. So you split people up into teams of four, you make sure each team has a designated editor and the balance is roughly 50/50 actors crew, you do this a few times, randomise the teams and themes, after not very long people now trust each other and now how other people work, they’re getting more done. That group (after I left due to rent up ouch inspired house move) went from making two films a year to on average one a week and as far as I know 5 feature projects have come out of it, including a TV show the Northsiders and the 24 hour projects are still going strong, if you search ‘Dublin 24 hour film project’ or ‘Dublin Film Making Collective’ on F***book you’ll find them.

        Now you take the nugget of that idea but instead you set it up around a project, start with an idea, test it, develop it, fund it. It could be the simplest idea in the world, the idea doesn’t matter in some respects, what matters is the fact you can have an immediacy of communication, you can test faster, figure it out quicker. a system where say you’ve a group of people spinning these things up, with the the added input of mentors, experts, etc. you do these things, you get a sense of the world, a sense of yourself and a sense of the people around you.

  3. Eamonn Clancy

    The first principle is nonsense, the second principle untrue everything else falls asunder after that.

    1. SOMK

      “The first principle is nonsense”

      I can’t argue with a non-argument but all my points are sourced and backed up, specifcally this point I’d refer to Cook and Frank’s’ The Winner Take All Society’, the arguments in that book have won out over the ‘Long Tail’ in terms of the practical dynamics of what has happened with culture in the last five years or so.

      “the second principle untrue”

      Prove it. Granted I offer some pretty shallow evidence in how it’s constructed (the old Google exact term hit count), but, well it’s such an obvious thing I’m surpised anyone even objects to it, I know the Earth orbits the sun, the water is wet and that generally the more ethical credence given over to the idea of making beauty than money, with a bit of time I could prove any of these things, but why on earth would you waste time proving the bloody obvious, (unless you’re an analytic philosopher)?

  4. Fluter Bad

    This reads like it was drawn up in Grogan’s on the back of a beer mat, on drunk night, by Drunky McDrunk.

    1. SOMK

      The Mini Cooper was first designed on a beermat, this wasn’t. Generally when drunk people give presentations it tend to be along the lines or “where is the nearest Kebab?”, or “can I get sick in your shirt pocket?” “Who stole my wallet! oh here it is?” Very often the speech will be slurred in these presentations and the next action not very clearly defined.

      You sound like you’ve met some really interesting and articulate drunks in your life, or perhaps you have confused drunkeness with something else, like handsomeness, charisma, or wearing pants?

    1. Nigel

      You’d better knock ’em down then. Not enough knockin’ down of people with high opinions of themselves, in my opinion.

    2. SOMK

      Genghis Kahn, Hitler, Mao, M Night Shamlin, Celia Ahern, Pol Pot, Ivor Calley, Ahyeah, Jimmy Savile, Richard Wagner, Jedward, John Waters (Irish non-fun one), Kony, Bernhard Knipperdolling…

      Christ you’re right, there’s loads!

  5. Jonotti

    That enterprise thing is a load of poo. It is the dole but with a few meetings every 6 months. The receiver gets to pretend that theyre not on the dole whilst the state gets to pretend they have somebody off the dole.

    An artists scheme would be even worse.

    1. SOMK

      It’s not the BTWEA for artists, and yes people who go on that scheme do go on to set stuff up. The problem with the BTWEA is that you can’t reasonably set up any kind of business without some kind of capital to invest, most people on the dole don’t have much in the way of capital (economic and social). It’s not quite the same with art because you don’t have the same failure rate as with business (95%), not accounting for taste, so a BTWEA for artists mightn’t be a bad thing (would it cost anymore than art graduates going on the dole?), I’d prefer full on basic income myself, but that’s besides the point.

      1. Jonotti

        I’d rather they were on the dole so they could be easily identified as wasters. What this person is suggesting would allow lots of worthless artists avoid reality and pretend they are professional artists.

        1. scottser

          Yeh, folks should never follow their dreams, eh jock? Better off working in tesco, preparing for a life of rte1 and soulless mediocrity. That way, you can have your perfectly ordered life handed to you on a plate, just the way you like it with no-one to challenge you or question you.
          Enjoy your sad life but please don’deny anyone else living theirs.

        2. SOMK

          Worth and worthless are very subjective, in the context of say both the gradual erosion of the state (H/T Neo-liberalism), aging population, increasing automation, globalisation etc. There is either going to be a rump or you’re going to have to find something for them to do (I’m talking a reserve army of the unemployed in general). Meanwhile culture becomes increasingly visual, something like about 40% of your every day mental processing power is given over to your internal graphics card.

          Jaron Lanier pointed to the creative class as being the proverbial canaries in the coalmine, vis a vis how technology and automation is encroaching into our lives, eroding the middle class and all that jazz, I think he overstates it, but there is a truth in say how he points out the kind of basic visual literacy that would mark someone out twenty years ago is quite common place, things like the ubiquity of the digital viewfinder makes the act of image composition easier, makes bad photographers mediocre ones, mediocre ones good ones, etc. So the nature of the skill as it engages with the world around it, has to change or it becomes redundant.

          Is Messi worthless? Well he essentially is world famous for how expertly he can maneuver a pig bladder with his feet. Objectively it’s sounds a bit useless when you say it like that, but within a given structure when enough people agree, it becomes a thing of beauty and splendor.

          I mean there’s literally people out there who have made a living paring pencils, and that sounds insane, but someone did that someone just decided one day to pare pencils for a living and now he does and he’s great, here’s a documentary about him.

        3. Joe the Lion

          You have some PhD-level research to buttress these findings I’m sure?

          I’ve said it before – publish a link to your work or get out of town.

          You’re a worthless idle troll who spraypaints venom and bile on to every thread you post on and not in an arty bollocks cool graffiti way either.

          1. SOMK

            I suppose if a stranger broke into your home at night the first thought that’d occur to you would be to ask if they have a PHD and if they answered in the affirmative, you’d say “well that’s fine then.” Appeal to authority is one of the worst logical fallacies, because it is essentially rooted in a sense of mindless deference to power, it assumes for example power is the ultimate righteousness, it’s hierarchial but totally dependent on hierarchy for it’s sense of agency, it is a state of mind that is unthinking and gullible, it is the cornerstone of mediocrity.

            Link to my work?

            Well there’s a link to a forty minute talk I gave in a university right there at the top of the page, if you listen to the start of the talk you’ll hear a well-respected Irish academic speak pretty highly of me, followed by a thirty-minute presentation and Q&A, believe it or not there was work involved in assembling that. A considerable volume of research in fact, it’d probably take at least a full day to organise it into a single list. I have a 29,000+ word, 89 page document of notes, detailing 39 papers and books, but that covers about 20-30% of the research I’ve engaged with, if you want to read it you can email me at, I have a 7,000 word project document too that outlines the above in more detail (bit of history, budget, methodology etc.), but that still needs a good bit of work, still I’ll send you that too.

            As for being a worthless, idle, troll.

            Worthless? Well I don’t think anyone is worthless, that kind of thinking has caused untold human misery, at it’s most pure, it’s the very definition of evil.

            idle? You have no idea, none, zip, zero, nada.

            Troll, yes I’m definitely a bit of a troll, albeit in the old school sense, I tend to punch up, not down, I attack bad ideas and weak arguments. I do so a bit provocatively, but with an awareness of the inherent pomposity therein, so that’s kind of the point, I’m glad it doesn’t come across in an ‘arty bollocks cool graffiti kind of way’, whatever the hell that is, it sounds awful.

            If you have an argument bring it, you bandy the term ‘PHD’ like you might have one, well use it if it’s worth a damn, seeing as you put so much stock in it.

            Slagging me off, with your half-assed psychological projection Mr. Lion (how original) isn’t going to get you anywhere, I’ve a superego too, it’s nothing I haven’t heard a million times before, said far more cuttingly.

  6. Lesley

    Mr.kerr I applaude your fine effort. The art college system both here and abroad is fundamental broken and does not favour the student. Something needs to be done to properly empower art students (and creatives) and balance the disproportionate amount of funding and resources given to business/tech/science and other disciplines because of the appearance of greater commercial return.

  7. SOMK

    Just to clarify…

    When I sent the above in, didn’t occur to me that the whole ‘worth’ angle would be the headline, it wasn’t at the forefront, it’s a dodgy concept, because it implies an exchange and expectation like between a customer and a business, not really what I was aiming for.

    The idea of conceiving of running colleges like businesses, is really, really dumb. People interested in why this idea is so much of the dumb, could do worse than seek out the work of Mariana Mazzocato. Essentially her point is that, you need state inefficiency to create private sector efficiency, the technology that made Jobs and Gates billionaires was developed in the state funded labs of MIT, Yale, Stanford etc. over the previous 20 years, start ups usually run on a five year cycle, not a twenty year one and the whole “we like money” thing tends to make these VC types comparatively risk averse, so you need the state involved, universities are essentially parasitic in the fiscal sense, that’s what they’re supposed to be, they’re not supposed to turn a profit. You can’t approach the idea of the furthering of human knowledge and understanding like the following…

    Noble and Pure University Researcher: “We need to understand this thing we don’t understand.”

    Baby-eating College Administrator: “Wonderful, how much money will it make like now already?”

    By old problems with art-college versus new ones, just to clarify the new ones stem from the localised implementation of policy by current college administrators in response to a period of sustained cuts. The old problems are a mish-mash of inter-related factors that set the boundaries of what such an institution is, boundaries that are always shifting, it’s how a Drawing Academy becomes a National College of Art and Design, and may become something else in time, otherwise it just ends up being a museum to a dead idea and the idea of making something new, rather than endlessly rehashing old ones, novelty as opposed to innovation.

  8. Joe the Lion

    Thanks for that proposal Seanán

    I don’t have time to go into the ins and outs of it with you right now but I might come back to it later.

    From a brief review I think it contains a lot of merit.

    1. SOMK

      Thanks Joe.

      Hello I am Seanán, I did just slag you off in a comment (above) just now, but in fairness you did call me a “worthless, idle troll”. My SOMK alterego, is kind of inner my Mr. Ranty I let of the leash from time to time, you have to let the anger out sometimes otherwise it festers and you become bitter, you let it out, it’s cathartic like punching a heavy bag, I try and do so in an plainly OTT way that shouldn’t really be taken too seriously. It is trolling I admit, but I don’t think trolling is necessarily a bad thing (you could argue Socrates was a troll, but that’d be ‘appeal to authority’ and anyway he wasn’t a troll, they didn’t have Twitter in 3rd century BC). Anyway I’m always disagreeing with myself, type some bollox into the internet, sometimes you instantly realise it’s a terrible argument, doesn’t make any sense, run completely contrary against some other principle.

      And replying to stuff is very time consuming, plus I’ve read for example they say even the awareness of an unopened email can effectively reduce your IQ ten points (whether or not that’s true I’m not sure, but it seems plausible), God knows I’ve tried debating with people online, it tends to be more political in nature than academic, slug fests, between two people who refuse to meet to others terms or even acknowledge it, that doesn’t really challenge your worldview, just entrenches it, and there’s too much of that stuff these days. From outrage porn to ohdearism.

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