University system to blame for the decline in design education quality

With regard to your article, Educational Guesswork (News Analysis, DW 23 March), it is clear that the true position in modern design education is not getting through to the design profession.

The quality of design education has been in steady decline since the absorption of the art schools into the general “new” university system, with its radically different frame of values. These values merit independent study rather than practical training.

Johnson Banks director Michael Johnson is right to suggest that administrative pressures have grown enormously, as ratios of student to staff have moved from sixor eight-to-one to about 22-to-one. Inevitably, there has been a decline in teaching contact, so the nasty weasel-word “learning” has now taken its place.

This implies students can learn what they need to know with minimal contact with staff, patently rubbish in a practical field. Design Council director of education Moira Fraser Steele does design education no service by giving support to this idea. If “the world has moved on”, it has clearly moved in the wrong direction.

Another potent force for decline in standards is penny-pinching in university administrations, so that the studio is under constant threat as being too expensive to maintain (although it is still the main forum of good design teaching).

Because universities will not supply sufficient computer support, these are ghettoised into separate units (always overlooked) and the use of studio spaces has declined even further, making the administration’s claims that studios are under-used – therefore unnecessary – into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The pressure to increase numbers means that many university courses are offered that give no prospect of employment, simply because there is a student demand for them.

Another pernicious feature of the university system is the emphasis on “research ratings”, which generate funding regardless of the quality or usefulness of the research.

All academics are now supposed to produce research papers to generate funding from the Education Research Council. And yet good researchers rarely make good teachers and vice-versa, because their interests are different.

This has led to a further collapse in quality, because teachers are now regarded as of little importance – in fact as something of a hindrance – by university administrations.

Design Council chief executive Andrew Summers is wrong to criticise the Government report, which makes some useful points. Modern universities have long since ceased to serve industry – they serve only themselves and their executives.

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