Design education in the UK is a hotbed of innovation and creativity that is fuelling economic recovery. So how can we make sure it stays that way?

My year of magical thinking (aka maternity cover) leading on our skills academy project at the Design Council comes to an end today. From Hartlepool to Plymouth and Glasgow to Canterbury (I could go on), I’ve had the privilege of seeing the best of design education in action.

I’ve seen a raft of superlative new buildings, industry legends getting stuck in teaching, entrepreneurship like you wouldn't believe among students and dedicated education professionals using every opportunity to make sure their graduates are work-ready.

Creative industries are not only bucking the recession and slow recovery trends but thriving.

But all is not perfect. Apprenticeships take-up is low, tuition fees and alarmingly high graduate unemployment are scaring young people off higher education, unpaid internships are rife and many employers still report that they find it hard to recruit the talent they need.

And design is far from safe within the education system. Despite the success of the #IncludeDesign campaign, the gone-but-not-forgotten EBacc and the so-called ‘Magic 8’ mean that both Art & Design and Design & Technology are marginalised subjects in many schools. And there are some serious challenges at degree level too with highly-regarded courses like Furniture Design at Bucks New University being forced to close, threatening the pipeline of talent that runs through to industry.

This is ironic at a time when the creative industries are not only bucking the recession and slow recovery trends but thriving. And, beyond those industries, the wider business world is waking up to the value of design.

So, with a new academic year about to begin, here are 5 things I believe could help education to continue to evolve, thrive and serve students, the institutions and the design industry:

1. We need more collaboration between education and industry

Where it’s done well, it’s amazing.  Arts University Bournemouth’s partnership with Framestore is a win/win, giving unique experience to students and allowing the company to nurture and hand-pick the brightest talent for its Oscar-winning work on films like Gravity.


Graduates from Arts University Bournemouth partnered with Framestore for tracking and paint work on the Oscar-winning film, Gravity.

But it doesn’t take a global animation giant to encourage entrepreneurship.  Education institutions all over the country are fuelling the creative industries by providing incubator spaces for graduate, and student start-ups. This kind of collaboration needs to start in school and there are some great examples to learn from. The Design Museum’s real-world Design Ventura challenge encourages both creativity and business nous, putting 6,000 14 to 16 year olds in teams of designers, communications, project and financial managers to develop a product.  The winner’s is then sold in the museum’s shop.

We need more collaboration between different levels of education too, such as the Sorrell Foundation’s National Art & Design Saturday Clubwhich takes school children into colleges and universities for the first time.

2. Young people need better careers information, advice and guidance

Imaginative ideas like work shadowing for careers advisers and digital solutions such as Skype in the Classroom are opening up more opportunities for young people and their influencers to learn about a wider range of careers.  This is backed up by comprehensive platforms including Creative Choices and Creative Skillset’s Career Navigator.


Textiles created by Winchester School of Art student, Carmen Lever as spotted by Harriet Vine for the Design Council's Ones to Watch competition.

But there is much still to do to ensure that young people can make informed choices about their future. We also need to celebrate young talent, which is why I’m proud to be a judge for our ownOnes to Watch, a celebration of 70 emerging designers to mark Design Council’s 70th birthday.

3. We need new spaces for learning
 


The fantastic new Reid Building as part of the Glasgow School of Art

At their annual conference this year, CHEAD, the leading organisation for creative education, called for truly 21st century learning spaces for art & design. There are some stunning examples like the grand new buildings unveiled recently at the Glasgow and Manchester Schools of Art. On a smaller scale, the otherworldly Waste House at the University of Brighton could not be more appropriate or relevant space for learning about sustainable design.


Manchester School of Art's remarkable new space

In Hartlepool, the ever-enterprising Cleveland College of Art & Design has taken over former municipal buildings, creating a cultural quarter alongside a church-turned-gallery in the town centre. This is just one example of how creative education and industries contribute to regeneration with the imagination and ambition that come naturally to them. We need more.

4. We need new ways to learn (and to go on learning)

Plymouth College of Art (soon to be a University in its own right) has turned the notion of a free school on its head by establishing the Plymouth School of the Creative Arts, where students can begin an education with an art college ethos from the age of 4.

Research found that only 23% of design companies have a training budget. And this is a sector where change, driven by everything from consumer taste to digitisation, comes fast and frequently.

Apprenticeships suffer from very low take-up in design (approx. 130 a year compared to over 6,000 in construction) but they are at least part of the answer to training enough young people in the right way for our industry. 

Frustrated that his students lived on the edge of the ‘Silicon Triangle’ but were not getting the benefit of the highly-skilled, well-paid jobs that it brought to the area, Hackney Community College’s principal Ian Ashman spearheaded the Tech City Apprenticeship, engaging employers to train young people for the exciting jobs on their doorstep.

One of those employers is the design agency UsTwo, where initiatives like ‘externships’ to give staff experiences outside their normal workplace form a professional development programme not often seen in this industry. Last year’s Pathways to Design research found that only 23% of design companies have a training budget. And this is a sector where change, driven by everything from consumer taste to digitisation, comes fast and frequently.

5. We need to shout about the success of the UK’s creative industries

The creative industries in the UK are a huge success story.  They are the second fastest-growing area of the economy, seeing 15.6% growth since 2008, compared to only 5.4% in the wider economy. And within that, design is the fastest-growing industry.


Create UK does a great job in shouting about the massive contribution that the creative industries make to the UK economy.

Laudable attempts to shout about these achievements like the Creative Industries Council’s Create UK strategy and Creative & Cultural Skills’ campaign to Build a Creative Nation do a great job of highlighting this but government rhetoric is not always matched with policies that reflect it.  The new ‘trailblazer’ approach to developing apprenticeships, for example, which calls for deep and sustained employer involvement is not appropriate for an unregulated ‘profession’ like design which is characterised by SMEs, micro-businesses and freelancers.

Next year’s wide-open general election is a great opportunity to tell the Government and opposition alike what we need to continue this success story and the education pipeline that feeds it.

Perhaps we need to apply some design thinking. Just a thought.

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