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What do creative arts graduates do?

December 2022

Miriam Firth and Elli Whitefoot consider the outcomes for creative arts graduates in their contribution to this year's What do graduates do? report

The Graduate Outcomes data concerns five areas of creative arts study: fine arts, design, media studies, performing arts, and cinematics and photography. Approximately 20,400 creative arts graduates completed the survey (10.6% of total respondents), of which 64% identified as female and 36% male. Of these respondents, 13,040 were working in the UK with the female/male split remaining at 64% to 36%.

Five key data points

  1. Creative arts graduates are more likely to work in non-graduate roles than the average for all graduates (41% compared to 28%). Setting up their own enterprises, working in a number of temporary/freelance roles, and supporting societal and non-government organisations is equivalent.
  2. On average, creative arts graduates are three times more likely to be working in freelance/self-employed roles.
  3. Creative arts graduates are less likely to go on to further study (4.7%) compared to the average across all subjects (9.2%).
  4. Completing a creative arts postgraduate course can lead to higher graduate earnings in the creative industries. We do not have the data to align PG study with their previous undergraduate study, but it is noteworthy that completing a creative arts postgraduate programme leads to significantly higher earnings (approximately 10%).
  5. Clerical and retail work appear to be high for creative arts graduates. However, when aligned to all subjects, these are equally high for all graduates.

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What do graduates do? 2023

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Employment and entrepreneurship

Although the number of creative arts graduates working for an employer (56.5%) was significantly below the average across all subjects (68.1%), nearly 13% of creative arts graduates cite running their own business (2.8%) or self-employment/ freelancing (9.9%) as their main activity. This is almost triple the number of graduates from other subjects (4.4%). If you also consider the number of creative arts graduates developing a creative artistic or professional portfolio (9.1%), which is significantly higher than all other subjects (average 2.2%), this more than makes up for the deficit in employment figures.

Although the number of self-employed creative graduates is below the sector average - with the creative industries as a whole reporting 32% freelancers, compared to 16% in other sectors in 20211 - the ratio follows an interesting trend, with creative arts graduates nearly tripling the percentage of entrepreneurial graduates from other subject areas.

Entrepreneurial creative arts graduates are more likely to be working in creative occupations aligned to their subject while occupations of creative arts graduates working for an employer are more varied, with top results showing teaching, retail and hospitality among creative occupations in design, marketing, photography, and broadcasting.

The number of creative arts graduates who worked one job since graduation (52.6%) is more than 10% lower than the average across all subjects (63.7%). However, the percentage of those who have worked two or more since graduation is consistently higher, with those working five or more (1.7%) significantly higher than the average across other subjects (0.4%).

This could be reflective of those working to support entrepreneurial activities or be a comment on the nature of the creative industries.

Unemployment among creative arts graduates (6.5%) was the highest across all subjects (5.9%).

Employment type,Percentage of graduates
Creative arts graduate working for an employer,56.5
All graduates average,68.1
Creative arts graduates running their own business or self-employed/freelance,12.7
All graduates average,4.4
Creative arts graduates developing a creative artistic or professional portfolio,9.1
All graduates average,2.2

Creative arts in context

While the Graduate Outcomes data infers employment patterns for creative arts graduates, we also need to look beyond this data to get the full picture:

  • Graduate roles in the creative industries confirmed by creative arts graduates are not stratified enough to distinguish the range of roles completed. Therefore, the data does not fully account for all creative industries graduate roles.
  • Employers and graduates do not always align a creative industries role in the same way as the sector. Therefore, the data does not always accurately identify all graduates working in these roles.
  • Graduate Outcomes reflects main activities, so does not provide insight into creative arts graduates who rely on other employment to subsidise their bills whilst pursuing entrepreneurial activities.

The creative industries represent 5.9% of the UK economy.2 The number of jobs has increased by a third in the last ten years, which is significantly higher than overall employment across the nation.3 There is, therefore, the potential for creative arts students to find graduate employment in the UK labour market.

Accounting for the nature of the creative industries, it is evident that considering employment and entrepreneurship destinations under one banner is important as they are so entwined. The number of creative arts graduates working on entrepreneurial activities, alongside those who have worked more than one job since graduation, highlights the need for a robust enterprise education for all creative students as an equal part of their careers education, rather than as an addition.


  1. National Statistics on the Creative Industries, Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre (PEC), June 2022.
  2. Impact of government policy on the creative sector, GOV.UK, October 2021.
  3. Ibid.

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