We must drop the ‘arts’ vs ‘science’ narrative

Talk of making arts degrees cheaper than science courses disregards the mix of disciplines that creative industries demand, says Bashir Makhoul

February 27, 2018
Art and science shake hands

Education for the creative industries has been rapidly growing for many years.

New and innovative further and higher education courses, such as creative coding and technology and creative business management, have been introduced to keep ahead of the exploding demands of the world we live in.

However, debate around the government’s post-18 education review shows that some attitudes towards creative education have yet to catch up with these advances.

As part of a major potential overhaul of school-leaver education, ministers have suggested the possibility of setting a lower tuition fee cap for university courses – including the creative arts – that are deemed to have lower median salary outcomes.

Segregating subject areas in this way, however, and valuing certain areas of study as worth more than others, is archaic and would undermine the cross-sector collaboration that is fundamental to British education and the UK economy.

Referring to all creative subject areas as simply “the arts” in this debate deliberately misrepresents the diversity, influence and contemporary nature of creative education.

It fails to acknowledge the idea generation, technical advances, business acumen and world-leading design taking place across all creative disciplines – the very things that are vital to fuelling growth in the economy and continuing to strengthen our position on the world stage.

Science subjects can no longer be considered in isolation from the impact of creativity and innovation. A successful economy must be based on a diversity of approaches and skills, and an attempt to limit the natural relationship between creativity, innovation and productivity is unlikely to contribute to building a thriving economy.

The creative industries consistently outperform the wider UK economy and contribute almost £92 billion to the country’s gross domestic product. The conversation must evolve from “STEM vs other disciplines” and move towards how all disciplines can work together to achieve innovation and idea generation.  

Specialist institutions such as the University for the Creative Arts have for many years taught the skills, such as creativity and innovation, that are now increasingly sought by business and industry. While it maintains a commitment to traditional arts and crafts subjects, it has also adapted to the requirements of the economy, responding to demand for further and higher education courses from the film and games industries, industrial and product design, architecture, computer animation and music production.

The creative industries are one of the largest growth areas for the UK economy; connecting with these industries and producing students who have the right skills to enter them is crucial to their continued success and longevity, which is why our university further enhanced its provision last year, opening a designated Business School for the Creative Industries.

Maintaining the UK’s status as a global leader in the creative industries goes hand in hand with increasing accessibility to creative education, not devaluing it.

Recognising the valuable contributions that the creative arts make, and ensuring that we continue to develop and shape a workforce capable of breaking boundaries, solving problems and keeping pace with industry as it transforms and grows, is paramount to maintaining the UK’s global creative arts status.

Having creative graduates, or “graduates of the arts”, pay less for their degrees would create a perception that the subjects they studied are less likely than others to lead to successful careers, which would undervalue the huge economic impact made by the creative industries.

It is essential that the terminology and attitudes towards “the arts” evolve in the same way that creative education has changed to provide innovative and up-to-date education that meets the demands of the modern workplace.

Bashir Makhoul is the vice-chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts.

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