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What do creative arts graduates do?

January 2022

Graduates from creative subjects were more likely than their peers to be self-employed and freelance - meaning they have been hard hit by the economic impact of COVID-19. But the latest edition of What do graduates do? indicates that their enterprising nature could put them in a strong position when it comes to developing new opportunities


  • Cinematics and photography
  • Design
  • Fine arts
  • Media studies
  • Performing arts

The Graduate Outcomes survey shows that one-third of creative arts graduates were working in non-permanent employment, meaning a significant number were working on fixed-term and zero-hour contracts, and were more likely than their peers to be freelance or self-employed.

22,100 respondents studied creative arts subjects (16.4% of total respondents), of whom 37% identified as male and 63% female. 4% of creative arts respondents reported undertaking further study (compared with 9.4% of respondents from all subjects), with 9% engaged in work and study (11.4% across all subject areas).

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What do graduates do? 2021/22

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Just over one quarter of creative arts graduates worked in arts, design and media professions, in areas directly related to their degree subject. 45.4% of creative arts graduates were in full-time employment (fewer than the previous year) and 26.2% were part time. This compares to 52.3% of respondents from all subjects in full-time employment, and 12.4% part time.

The unemployment rate for the creative arts was 9.2%, comparable to 8.9% across all subjects. Design had the highest figure in professional-level employment at 62.4% and fine art the lowest with 41.3%. However, due to their 'portfolio working' style, creative graduates may report their 'steady' employment (for example retail, catering and bar staff) instead of their creative work. Cinematics & photography and design graduates were most likely to stay in the sector, with 36% and 34.4% respectively finding employment in arts, design, and media professions.

Figure 1: Employment by subject area
Subject area Full-time emp Part-time emp Further study Work/study Unemployed 
Cinematics & photography 45.0% 28.2% 2.8% 7.6% 10.9% 
Design 52.2% 25.1% 2.9% 6.4% 8.6% 
Fine art 34.9% 29.2% 6.1% 12.6% 8.6% 
Media studies 48.2% 23.1% 4.2% 8.3% 10.6% 
Performing arts 40.3% 27.9% 5.9% 11.5% 8.8% 
All GOS subjects 52.3% 12.4% 9.4% 11.4% 8.9% 

Self-employment, zero-hour contracts and second jobs

This year's Graduate Outcomes survey showed that self-employment among creative graduates (9.3%) had decreased slightly compared to the previous year (10.9%), but they were still more likely to be self employed than the wider graduate population (3.5%). This trend is also reflected in the wider economy, as PEC reports that '32% of the creative industries workforce... is self-employed (including freelancers), compared with 16% of the UK workforce'.1

The data shows that 11.3% of creative arts graduates are on zero hours contracts, up from 9.9% last year, with performing arts and fine art graduates reporting 15.1% and 16% respectively. By mid-2020 there was a steep rise in freelance creatives reporting working zero hours per week, and a decline of those reporting working over 32 hours.2 External data suggest that many creative industries workers undertake second jobs to support their income during periods of low demand in their creative occupation.3

Figure 2: Salary
Subject area No significant further study since graduation Significant further study since graduation 
Cinematics & photography £18,943 £19,448 
Design £20,082 £20,019 
Fine art £17,040 £21,706 
Media studies £19,767 £20,856 
Performing arts £18,586* £21,899* 
All GOS subjects £24,250 £24,493 

* signifies upper end of reported salary figures

Impact of COVID-19

While DCMS figures are not yet available, ONS Labour Force Survey data shows opportunities in arts, entertainment and recreation have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. Vacancies fell by 66.5% in the year to April, 128,000 below pre-pandemic levels.4 Music & performing arts, film & TV and publishing were particularly affected, although some creative businesses thrived, with 18% hiring more employees and freelancers across all sub-sectors.5

Oxford Economics estimates that 10% (£12 billion) of the creative industries GVA was lost in 2020, due to the pandemic, and 1 in 20 jobs were set to be lost by the end of 2021 (112,700).6 However, it is speculated that creative graduates may be in a strong position as the economy recovers. Kingston University's Future Skills League Table report suggests that 'Skills for Innovation' taught on creative arts degrees, will drive ideas, technologies and secure the UK economy.7

Figure 3: Effects of the pandemic on creative industries
Sector GVA Jobs 
Music, performing and visual arts -39% -26% 
Museums, galleries and libraries -32% -14% 
Publishing -14% -6% 
Design and designer fashion -14% -7% 
Advertising and marketing -11% -6% 
Film, TV and photography -12% -5% 
Crafts -8% -2% 


The value of a creative arts degree Graduate Outcomes data tells part of the story, but wider statistics are pertinent when reflecting on the effects of the pandemic upon creative arts graduates at the time of the survey. The data suggest that the rise in self-employment, zero-hour contracts and second jobs is indicative of a decline in employment opportunities, with some occupations badly affected by lockdown measures. Beyond the impact of the pandemic, we can surmise that creative graduates may particularly benefit from enterprise education, and an understanding of portfolio careers and the gig economy.

Also in this series


  1. Freelancers in the creative industries, Policy & Evidence Centre, 2021. 
  2. The impact of Covid-19 on jobs in the cultural sector - part 3, Centre for Cultural Value, 2021. 
  3. Who is working second jobs in the creative economy?, Police & Evidence Centre, 2020. 
  4. Growing freelance creative workforces may pose a risk to the regions, Arts Professional, 2021. 
  5. Creative Radar 2021: The impact of COVID-19 on the UK's creative industries, Policy & Evidence Centre, 2021. 
  6. The UK Creative Industries report 2021, Creative UK Group, 2021. 
  7. Creative Radar 2021: The impact of COVID-19 on the UK's creative industries, Policy & Evidence Centre, 2021. 

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