Education guesswork

The Department of Culture, Media and Sports has launched the second Creative Industries Mapping document, it questions the quality of graduating designers. Suzel Pitty educates us.

A question over the quality of design school graduates in the UK was raised in the latest Creative Industries report from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport last week (DW 16 March).

It’s a question that expresses real concern, as the Government will be forming the Creative Industries Higher Education Forum to examine and address this by facilitating links between industry and education establishments.

It is an issue that has been regularly raised within the design industry and elicits a range of responses. Seymour Powell partner Dick Powell provided the industry voice at the launch of this second Creative Industries Mapping document from the DCMS. “There’s no question in our minds. You just can’t find the good designers any more,” he says. “The amazing thing is that 15 years ago our designers were going abroad to work and now we are employing designers from abroad. This is a problem whose effect we are not likely to see for ten to 15 years.”

Johnson Banks director Michael Johnson sees it as an unavoidable hazard with the increase in student enrolment which, according to the report, has increased by 24 per cent over the past four years.

“There are more students going in, but there still seems to be the same number of good students coming out. It’s becoming more difficult to find the good students because there’s more chaff around them,” he says.

Johnson regularly teaches on the undergraduate graphics courses at Glasgow School of Art and Kingston College of Arts and he is concerned about the administrative pressure on teachers and the knock-on effect that this has on the lack of teaching they give to their students. He has observed “from a very reputable design college, a whole year of graduates getting almost no teaching in their final year”. And if this is happening in a top college, then the concern must be even greater for the second-division colleges.

The DCMS has since played down any concerns over quality, but continues that the industry has been talking about the issue for some time and the report could not disregard this.

The Creative Industries Higher Education Forum is still in its conceptual stage and the who, how, why and when has yet to be established. Design Council director of education, Moira Fraser Steele asserts, “The forum will look at the changing face of design and how it impacts back on attitudes to learning.

“The world has moved on from a teaching to a learning environment,” she continues, “and with people being responsible for their own learning and having to negotiate their way through that learning, rather than expecting the teacher having to hold all the information in their head.”

The education system is hard pushed to keep up with the speed of change in industry as consultancies are much more business-oriented in their agendas.

Design Council chief executive Andrew Summers sees the inference in the report as not constructive. “The response should be not to criticise the education system, but for consultancies to invest more in developing the skills of its people,” he says.

And the digital sector may raise implications on the types of skills that exist in the industry and those that are needed to propel the sector forward, particularly given its potential for growth.

“I think this sector will grow and of the people I talk to, their volume of activity in this area is up, but not up by that amount, more like 5 per cent to 25 per cent,” comments Summers. “People are realising that [the digital sector] is not a panacea and that they’re taking proper business decisions about it.”

The next meeting of the Ministerial Creative Industries Strategy Group will be in June when its members will consider the findings of the report and set the agenda on what needs to be achieved. According to the DCMS, it is likely to be more about generic issues such as improved access funding, focused export promotions and the protection of intellectual property rights.

At this stage, it signals interest by Government in ensuring the continued success of this sector and efforts to eliminate its obstacles. But its spectrum is very broad and it could prove to be just another Government talking shop. The DCMS spokeswoman offers clarification: “It’s a mechanism for progress chasing across government.”

And the Design Council, as the industry’s nearest thing to an over-arching body, doesn’t see it as merely hot-air. “I wouldn’t write off totally the value of a forum to discuss things,” says Summers, “because what happens in Government is that, if ministers don’t have discussions about something, they don’t even give it any consideration.”

Report highlights

Meeting the demand for key skills is one of the most important issues affecting the creative industries

The Creative Industries Higher Education Forum has been set up to provide a platform for dialogue between Government, creative industries and higher education establishments

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