Our world-leading creativity is at risk

April 15, 2010

In your report on the Budget, "Chancellor's pre-hustings STEM largesse steals the Conservatives' thunder" (1 April), you refer to criticism of the government's decision to restrict additional university places to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The sidelining of creative subjects is woefully short-sighted given that the creative industries have demonstrated rapid growth in the face of the recession. A shortfall in creative graduates caused by restricted numbers will constrain this growth and jeopardise the UK's position as a world leader in this area.

I recently received a response from Lord Drayson to a detailed briefing I supplied to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, outlining the coterminous nature of design with STEM and making the case for additional places in design.

In his response, the peer acknowledged the role design plays in helping companies to become more competitive and in stimulating innovation. However, he failed to recognise that universities cannot continue to meet the needs of industry unless creative-arts subjects are adequately funded. The government's own Higher Ambitions report calls specifically for "enhanced support for the STEM subjects ... and other skills that underwrite this country's competitive advantages".

There is a coalition between the academy and creative industry that is pointing to the evidence to support change in this area. Recently, I have been asked to sit on Universities UK's Creative Industries Steering group and the Council for Industry and Higher Education's Task Force on the Digital and Creative Industries.

Our economy cannot grow without recognising that technological advancement is dependent on creativity to realise new products, services and systems. Students are applying for creative-arts courses in record numbers (our applications were up 94 per cent this year), but the lack of places risks a generation of wasted talent and the loss of a world-class sector.

Elaine Thomas, Vice-chancellor, University for the Creative Arts.

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