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Why we need creative arts graduates

March 2018

Creative arts graduates are in demand in all sectors of the economy and the creative industries are growing rapidly - yet fewer individuals are studying these subjects

At secondary school level, the focus has increasingly been on core subjects that make up the English Baccalaureate, such as English, maths, humanities, the sciences and modern languages - to the detriment of creative arts. There has been:

  • a year-on-year decrease in the number of secondary pupils studying art and design since 2015
  • a 42% drop in the number of pupils studying design and technology between 2010 and 2017.1

In higher education, the number of university applications and acceptances for arts subjects has also declined, with both reporting their lowest levels since 2013.2 Nevertheless, the creative industries have significant potential.

The UK already possesses world-leading creative clusters in London and there are other areas, such as Manchester and Glasgow, that could reach the same level. However, with fewer individuals choosing to study creative arts at both secondary and university level, there's a risk that demand for creative arts graduates could outstrip supply.

Underappreciation of creative arts graduates

Creative disciplines still suffer from a certain amount of academic elitism. This may in part be due to government policies that prioritise other subjects - take, for example, the recent decision to award colleges extra funding for each student studying maths at A-level.

It can be the case that students consider more academic subjects such as physics or history as a better degree choice than, say, media studies. They are unsure where a creative arts degree could lead them.

Too regularly ignored are creative arts graduates' contributions in all areas of the economy and the transferable skills that they possess, including:

  • ideas generation
  • creative problem-solving
  • openness to new concepts
  • entrepreneurial skills.3

For instance, the phones we own, the websites we use and the cars we drive all rely on design solutions that are to a large extent provided by creative arts graduates. And they are the ones who, in many cases, direct the social media and advertising campaigns that bring these products to our attention.

Nine out of ten jobs in the creative industries are at low or no risk of automation

Value of the creative industries

Creative industries are a vital part of the UK economy, contributing in 2015:

  • £91.8billion in gross value added
  • 9.4% of UK service exports
  • 5.2% of total exports (a net exporter)
  • nearly 2 million British jobs.4

That's 700,000 more employees than the financial industry and £8billion more than the automotive industry.5 On top of that, other sectors such as manufacturing use techniques developed in the creative industries to add value.

For example, 3D modelling pioneered in the games industry is being used by Rolls Royce to improve their understanding of engines.6

In addition, employees in creative arts are better placed than most to weather the new industrial revolution.

Automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are causing widespread disruption that is set to change the way that people work and the roles that they do. But nine out of ten jobs in the creative industries are at low or no risk of automation, meaning that their share of the workforce is actually likely to increase.7

Future of the creative arts

In September 2017, the Bazalgette review predicted that creative arts have the potential to add a further:

  • £128billion to the economy by 2025
  • one million jobs by 2030.8

The report made numerous recommendations on how the government could achieve this and support growth in creative industries.

One suggestion was that a new £500million fund should be awarded to creative institutions that have the most innovative ideas. The report stressed that this fund must be spread throughout the country and not just be used to strengthen the country's leading creative clusters - mostly located in London.

In response, the government has approved an £80million fund in the form of the Creative Clusters Programme that can support partnerships with up to eight universities.

There has been significant initial interest in the first stage of this programme, with 65 applications from universities partnered with industry and other sector organisations.

These were narrowed down to a shortlist of 22 at the end of February 2018. With the exception of London - which had five bids - no other location had more than one. The winning bids will be chosen in July with an expected launch date of October 2018.9

This represents a potentially exciting opportunity for universities, not just to embed experience into their curriculum, but also to form relationships with employers - which could lead to more professional-level roles for creative arts graduates in the future.

Although there have been year-on-year improvements in employment outcomes for creative arts graduates, the figures are still low. Only 61% of creative arts graduates found professional-level employment six months after graduation, compared with a 71% average for all graduates in 2016.10

However, with the creative industries set to grow and this new opportunity for greater collaboration with universities, perhaps we will see improved outcomes in the years to come.

1 A crisis in the creative arts in the UK?, Professor John Last, hepi, 2017.

2 UCAS End of Cycle data, UCAS, 2013-2017.

3 What can I do with a degree in fine art?, Prospects and AGCAS, 2016.

4 DCMS Sectors Economic Estimates 2017: Employment and Trade, Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport, 2017; Global Trade Report, Creative Industries Federation, 2018.

5 Global Trade Report, Creative Industries Federation, 2018.

6 Independent Review of the Creative Industries, Sir Peter Bazalgette, 2017.

7 Creativity vs. Robots – The Creative Economy and the Future of Employment, Nesta, 2015.

8 Independent Review of the Creative Industries, Sir Peter Bazalgette, 2017.

9 22 Bids Shortlisted for £80M Creative Industries Clusters Programme, AHRC Creative Economy Programme, 2018.

10 Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE), HESA, 2014-2017.

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