The case for creative education
1 Sep 2010
Emma Pollard, Senior Research Fellow
Creative graduates value their creative education. Creativity is central to their identity and their outlook, and a creative education helps them to develop their potential, providing time and space to devote to their practice. They learn by doing, through project-based enquiry, and from those with sector experience, benefiting from the critical feedback, support and encouragement from their peers. A creative education provides them with the confidence to move out into the world of work, and provides them with a range of technical, professional and personal skills that can be applied in a variety of settings – not just creative roles.
Government policy (and central funding) is currently prioritising science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, and protecting healthcare and language degrees. Creative education courses are relatively expensive, so without government financial support through the teaching grant, the implication is that student fees will have to rise significantly. For prospective students with a creative instinct but facing a lower-paid career, this may present a disincentive that results in lower course uptake, leaving some departments unable to continue, and others becoming the preserve of the better-off student.
The creative sector in the UK is an important part of our recovery from recession, and in the global marketplace, the UK is one of the strongest creative and cultural industries. This is a highly-skilled sector that is worth promoting and stimulating, but instead faces a troubled future.
A new report, Creative Career Stories, is the second to present findings from the Creative Graduates Creative Futures research exploring the early careers of creative graduates, and adds further evidence of the benefits of creative study. Through narratives in graduates’ own words, it explores the connections they make between their courses and careers. It also provides suggestions for higher education institutes that will help them continue their work to improve the student experience and prepare individuals for their transition into work.
The creative drive
Creative graduates aspire to creative careers, and creative considerations are central to their career decisions. The research shows that the vast majority are satisfied with their work situation, and are working in roles where they can apply their creativity (a key career driver), and are working in the creative sector. Creative graduates are determined, tenacious, resourceful and resilient, staying focused on finding creative work in their early careers. However, the personal experiences of graduates indicate that breaking into the labour market – or breaking out of the sheltered environment of higher education – can be challenging, particularly in a recession that increases competition and uncertainty.
To navigate a way through initial turbulence in their early careers, creative graduates make frequent job changes, undertake multiple activities, engage in freelance and short contract work, and work unpaid to gain experience, skills and insight. Between five to seven years after graduating, though continuing to balance activities, they are engaging in work related to their discipline, and many are taking on responsibilities in management and senior roles. The stories of creative graduates highlight the range of factors that facilitate the development of their careers: undertaking work placements and internships (during studies and after) to gain industry experience and contacts; developing and maintaining networks to inspire, support and collaborate with; drawing on family and friends for emotional and financial support; relocating to find work; continuing to develop their skills and keep abreast of new processes and technologies; and recognising and grasping opportunities when they arise. Creative graduates are adept at finding or creating work, even in a recession, but the low pay in the sector and the need for experience (generally gained through unpaid work) can cause considerable hardship.
The report concludes by laying out the challenges for higher education, and for the creative sector itself. The career stories provide a powerful argument for a creative education and its wider benefits for those who have chosen a creative career path. It is vital to ensure that creative education remains part of higher education of the future and continues to provide a rewarding experience for creative graduates.
 The research, commissioned by the Council for Higher Education in Art and Design, was led by University of the Arts London and the Institute for Employment Studies. It surveyed 3,500 graduates from 26 UK universities and colleges. The first report Creative Graduates Creative Futures was published in January 2010.
For more information on this work, please contact Emma Pollard at IES.