The true value of creative degrees

The gulf between what creative graduates contribute to our economy and what they are perceived to contribute is a damaging misconception that undermines not only the education industry, but also society at large. It has always been clear to me that both individuals and the economy benefit from creative education and a new report from the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre (PEC) has proven it.

This timely piece of research makes a convincing case for taking a more nuanced approach to assessing the value of creative higher education – and underscoring how metrics based on graduate earnings are an oversimplification.

Martha Bloom’s research raises a number of important points. Most compellingly, creative higher education is giving graduates the skills they need to gain employment in the roles they want: 52% of creative graduates are in some form of creative employment and 73% took their job because it was the type of role they wanted to be in. It’s clear that creative higher education helps to unlock careers that its graduates want – surely one of the most important aspects of studying a subject at university level?

The report flags the importance of creative graduates to the economy. The creative industries sector – worth £112bn to the UK economy in 2018 and bigger than UK Life Sciences, Aerospace and Automotive sectors combined – is a huge employer. Graduates make up 64.2% of workers in the sector, and of these, 46% studied creative subjects. For these industries to continue to thrive in the UK’s post-pandemic recovery, we must ensure that the flow of creative graduates continues.

There is also a question here around remuneration, raised in the PEC’s July policy paper – if we want this high-growth sector to thrive, amid the climate of the Augar Review and concerning talk from government of ‘low-value degrees’, we need better recognition of the need for creative training and salaries in the sector to match.

At institutions like Goldsmiths we are training the next generation of creative industry talent, helping to deliver the wide range of skills the sector will need in the coming years. We set up our Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship (ICCE) back in 2008 in response to the conceptualisation of the creative industries as a sector, reflecting its importance to the UK economy but underrepresentation in decision-making.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented challenge for these industries. The sector is having to innovate and urgently find new ways of working to survive. We also can’t underestimate what a difficult and worrying situation new creative graduates face, entering the jobs market as the UK experiences the worst recession of any G7 country.

It can be difficult to imagine what Britain will look like post-pandemic and post-Brexit. Seismic change is coming to every industry, education included. But there are reasons for hope. We know that the relevance of the creative and cultural industries is here to stay – creativity will be vital as we rebuild, and with the growth of AI and automation there will be an even greater demand for creative skills in our economy.

If innovation is what’s called for, then there’s never been a greater need for our creative graduates.