Stem reclassification could help turn the education tide

Gus Desbarats

I wholeheartedly support Dick Powell’s views on the challenges faced by design education in this country (Insight, DW 17 March). We see the problem constantly at The Alloy, to the degree that we believe finding talent is the main barrier to our growth.

As chairman of Business Design Innovation, on behalf of the industrial design subset of the design industry (we are the trade body focused on product, software interaction and service design), I have also been visiting universities and consulting with a few select ones that have signed up to BDI’s University Design Industry Partnership scheme.

I believe two other factors need to be added to Powell’s points. Although there are many ’pan design’ issues, industrial designers have a direct influence on the effectiveness of the technological development that is so important to the nation’s economic recovery.

There is a good argument to be made for classifying the three main industrial design disciplines as Stem subjects. Middlesex, for example, has already done this.
This would help with the funding, without adversely affecting the curriculum in any way. This would also reflect an evolving best practice in industrial design education around the world.

It is unnerving to watch the erosion of our nation’s ability to form industrial designers, at the very time industry and Government bodies, such as the Technology Strategy Board are starting to value the contribution of industrial design as an essential part of business best practice. Stem reclassification could help to turn the tide here.

In addition to Powell’s recommendations, we also need to tackle, head on, the perverse assessment metrics that encourage self-defeating behaviour by lumping all universities under a single funding model.

Until the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills adopts an assesment model that better reflects the role of university education, nothing will change enough.

Gus Desbarats, Chairman, The Alloy, by e-mail

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