Campus close-up: Goldsmiths, University of London

London institution is famed for its alloy of art and enterprise

February 27, 2014

Source: Rex Features

Oscar hopes: Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave picked up a slew of nominations for the 86th Academy Awards

When British director Steve McQueen attends the 86th Academy Awards this weekend, he could complete a remarkable hat-trick for his alma mater.

Victory on 2 March for the director of 12 Years a Slave would mean that alumni of Goldsmiths, University of London will have picked up an Oscar, the Turner Prize and the Barclaycard Mercury Prize in the past five months.

The critical acclaim enjoyed by Goldsmiths graduates in many artistic fields – film, art and popular music – has started to focus attention on the college’s role in developing some of the UK’s most lively creative talents, as it did in the 1990s, when Goldsmiths graduates were among the most prominent of the so-called Young British Artists.

Explaining why a certain crop of alumni are doing well in the artistic worlds is difficult, but Goldsmiths warden Pat Loughrey believes that his institution has played a significant part in graduates’ success.

“It is silly to pretend that you can deliver creativity in the same way you do undergraduate dentistry,” said the former producer and BBC executive, who joined Goldsmiths in 2010.

“It’s not something that an institution can will into existence itself, nor is it down to an act of strategic planning, but I think there are some things about Goldsmiths that make it possible,” he added.

The institution’s location in gritty southeast London is important to developing artistic talent, Mr Loughrey believes.

“Being away from the centre is useful – I think it suits the artistic temperament,” he said.

“I’ve never known an artist who wasn’t some kind of outsider, so I think there is something about not being in a leafy urban square in central London that is useful.”

Mr Loughrey has tried to open up Goldsmiths as a venue for cultural events, with public talks, exhibitions or concerts taking place most evenings during term-time.

Students also head out into the surrounding borough of Lewisham with their creative projects. A group of undergraduates recently set up a pop-up record shop in New Cross Road, where they sold their own music and held several gigs.

This type of business-minded creativity is something that Mr Loughrey is keen to encourage in students, with Goldsmiths’ Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship focusing on how artists can earn a living.

But every generation of Goldsmiths students has displayed a streak of entrepreneurial spirit alongside creativity, from another art student-turned-director Alfred Hitchcock in the 1910s and artist Graham Sutherland in the 1920s to fashion designer Mary Quant, who studied there in the 1950s, according to Mr Loughrey.

“Damien Hirst is a great creative mind, but he is a tremendous entrepreneur and certainly was when he was a student here,” he said.

“We’re always thinking how we can give our students the skills to get maximum advantage from their own ideas,” he added.

The interaction of arts students with those studying social sciences also plays a role in developing talent, Mr Loughrey believes.

“You have artists rubbing shoulders with social scientists. Add in a high degree of social commitment, and I think that is very good for the artistic temperament,” he said.

Encouraging this type of interdisciplinary engagement is where Goldsmiths has excelled, he continued.

“You often have students who are amazing musicians, but also great computer programmers,” Mr Loughrey said.

“They might be uncomfortable if they have to make a choice between these two things. Here you can be a performer but also work on high-end computing work.”

Combining research in the arts, social science and technology is where Goldsmiths can make its mark, Mr Loughrey argued.

Computer game design staff have recently started working with Imperial College London scientists to create DockIt, an interactive game that could enable its community of players to help “crowd-source” solutions to as-yet-unsolved biological problems. Goldsmiths’ work on art and reading therapy is also well advanced.

Mr Loughrey said: “We have nurtured the creative arts here at Goldsmiths for years, but they can now be applied to real-life problems.”

In numbers

7 alumni of Goldsmiths have won the Turner Prize

Campus news

Lancaster University
The government of China’s most populous province has signed an agreement with a UK university aimed at enhancing business links, boosting exports and creating jobs in the UK and China. Officials from Lancaster University, along with the leader of Lancashire County Council, flew to China this week to meet the Guangdong Provincial Office of Science and Technology in Guangzhou. The five-year memorandum of understanding outlines aims to increase partnerships between British and Chinese small and medium-sized enterprises working in technological fields via “collaborative research projects leading to the development and commercialisation of new products and services for global markets”.

Bangor University
Fishing companies are funding doctoral research that hopes to address a lack of understanding of the ecological consequences of scallop fishing in the English Channel. Bangor University is hosting PhD student Claire Catherall, whose study is being funded by fish processors, fish companies, the supermarket Morrisons and a fishing charity. It is hoped that by understanding where scallops are fished, the business can be made more environmentally sustainable.

Imperial College London
A London university has served as the launch site for an app that allows people to pay for food and drink with a scan of a smartphone screen. Staff and students of Imperial College London can use the Yoyo app to generate a quick response code to pay at food outlets and union bars on the South Kensington Campus. Yoyo was launched with investment from Imperial Innovations, the university’s technology transfer company.

University of Edinburgh
A prototype solar-powered refrigerator now under development could be used to keep vaccines cool in hot countries in the developing world, where they are needed most. Vaccines often deteriorate before they are administered, according to the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, which is leading the project. But the solar-powered fridge could keep them cool for up to three days, meeting World Health Organisation targets. Researchers are now looking to create a more compact version for the commercial market.

University of Liverpool
A public health researcher has argued that the policies of the government of Margaret Thatcher led to “the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being”. The evidence is presented in an article published in the International Journal of Health Services by Alex Scott-Samuel – senior clinical lecturer in public health at the University of Liverpool – and colleagues from the universities of Durham, the West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Aston University
Scientists are looking at ways of researching Alzheimer’s disease that minimise the need for animal testing. Eric Hill, of the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, will explore methods relying on human stem cells rather than genetically modified mice to illuminate the causes of the disease. It is hoped that the new procedure will help improve the accuracy with which the effectiveness of newly developed drugs can be predicted.

University of East Anglia
An English university has launched a three-year paramedic science undergraduate degree programme in conjunction with a local ambulance service. The University of East Anglia course is designed to develop paramedics for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust and, subject to approval by the Health and Care Professions Council, will provide an alternative to work-based training routes for people seeking a career as a paramedic.

Canterbury Christ Church University
A disused prison could be turned into student accommodation after the Ministry of Justice told a university that its bid for the site has been recommended for approval. If the plan proceeds, it will allow Canterbury Christ Church University to extend its main North Holmes Road campus on to the HMP Canterbury prison site. The university is now in negotiations to finalise the contract.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Please login or register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments


Featured jobs

Student and Academic Support Lead

Cranfield University

Payments Team Leader

Royal Holloway, University Of London

Data and Gifts Administrator

Durham University

Associate Professor in Architecture

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China


University Of Lincoln