The number of applications to design courses has soared this year, despite the recession and a growing consensus in the design industry that positions for graduates are drying up.
Figures released by university admissions organisation Ucas last week show that applications for undergraduate design courses have risen by 11.5 per cent since last year, with 40 732 people seeking to study.
This compares to a rise in applications to all courses of just 7.8 per cent, while fine art saw a 6.9 per cent rise, English studies a 6.7 per cent rise, and finance a 3.7 per cent drop.
This proportional rise in the number of people wanting to study design comes despite several warnings from key industry figures that there are simply not enough design jobs for graduates.
Ian Cochrane, managing director of management consultancy Ticegroup and former managing director of Fitch and Landor Europe, sparked controversy in these pages with his suggestion that design students should ‘get out’ of a sector which ‘does not need you’.
His advice that graduates Design studies gain experience outside the design sector was later echoed by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which recommended that graduates from all courses should take lower-skilled jobs or voluntary work as it unveiled a widespread drop in graduate opportunities.
Commenting on the Ucas results, Cochrane says, ‘I don’t think the increase in applications should come as a surprise. People coming out of school and seeing the competitive jobs market are going to want to get more qualifications.
‘The creative sector is still seen as big and fast-growing, and there is the sexy, cool side propagated by TV shows like Grand Designs. The 2012 Olympics are also raising the profile of the design industry.
‘The challenge now will be for the schools to make sure they only take on the strongest people. I also think they should be offering sandwich courses and opportunities for students to experience the industry, and help them when they graduate.’
Cochrane concludes, ‘I would never discourage people from studying design, but I think other elements could be added on to design courses.’
John Miller, director of the School of Design at University College Falmouth, says, ‘Take-up of design courses tends to pick up when students who want to do creative courses are forced to weigh up their options.’
Commenting on the ratio of design graduates to job opportunities, Miller says, ‘I would advise people graduating now to be patient and to hang on to their self-belief. Recession creates churn, and companies which are downsizing now may be losing senior people. When the economy picks up again these companies will be looking to bring in fresh blood.’
And backing up Cochrane’s comments, he says, ‘Graduates looking for jobs should also use their time to develop their skills, for example by going on work experience or staying in education. I graduated in the last recession and took a postgraduate course, and when I finished that the economy was in a much better state.’
Charles Mitchell, dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Cumbria, says, ‘Most people leaving a design course will want to be designers, but the reality is that some won’t – they might move into business development, account management and other areas.
‘However, I would argue that an art school education has a lot more use than just preparing you for a job. It gives you survival skills and an enterprising nature. Designers are survivors – much more so, I would argue, than those who do pure business degrees.’