Christopher Frayling wants education funding change

The outgoing rector of the Royal College of Art, Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, is set to mount a campaign to persuade Government to rethink its categorisation of design education.

Frayling has signalled an intention to go to ‘the highest level’ to talk to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Business Secretary Peter Mandelson to argue for the inclusion of design as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) subject. Stem subjects are regarded as strategically important to the UK economy and ‘ringfenced’ in terms of research funding.

Frayling’s move has been prompted by a cut in research budgets for some of the UK’s major design higher education institutions, including the RCA, University of Sussex, University of the Arts London and Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication (www.designweek.co.uk, 5 March).

Frayling points out that although the RCA ‘dramatically’ improved its positioning for the Research Assessment Exercise, it had its funding cut. ‘What’s interesting is that Mandelson spoke [last week] about the importance of research in the creative industries, and days later funding is cut,’ says Frayling. ‘The dots aren’t being joined up. Engineering and technology are rated, but design isn’t. The big issue now is making design a Stem subject.

‘Everyone understands the relationship between science and manufacturing, but what they don’t get is design as the crucible of the creative industries. Government thinks that it is a lightweight subject, about styling and art, that it isn’t grown-up stuff,’ he adds.

James Dyson feels that the Government’s ‘arbitrary division’ of engineering and design is short-sighted. ‘We need to move away from the old stereotypes: engineering as difficult, design as fluffy. Our best design engineers are both artistic and scientific.

‘Investment is required across the whole spectrum: science and engineering, but creative thinking and new ideas too,’ he says.

A spokesman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England says, ‘It may be that in multi-faculty universities, design is carried out as engineering. We protected the science subjects but didn’t move the money from the arts. In fact, [overall] funding for the arts has gone up. We’re not questioning the role of the arts in the economy, but there’s a limited pot of money.’

Design Research Grant Uses

• Nottingham Trent University’s research budget has increased. Research projects include a robotic snake, developed with Merlin Robotics

• Some of the Royal College of Art’s research budget is ploughed into the Helen Hamlyn Centre, which works on patient safety, inclusive design and workplace design projects

• University of the Arts London uses part of its research budget to support knowledge-transfer projects between design and industry, according to Professor Keith Bardon, UAL Pro-rector, Research and Enterprise

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