Creative thinking ‘not rated’ by state

Academics claim STEM policies threaten UK’s ‘last remaining world-leading sector’. Hannah Fearn reports

November 30, 2009

Disgruntled leaders of creative universities protested about the way they are treated by the Government after a junior minister rejected repeated warnings that policies favouring science over creative subjects would lead to economic decline.

Nigel Carrington, rector of the University of the Arts London, told a conference on the academy’s contribution to the creative economy, held in the capital last week, that plans to focus scarce funds on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects failed to recognise the economic importance of the creative industries.

Sharing a panel with Siôn Simon, minister for creative industries in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Carrington said that the UK’s creative businesses were “arguably its last remaining world-leading sector”.

In the past decade, he said, a 40 per cent increase in enrolments for creative degrees had coincided with a 26 per cent rise in the number of people working in the industry. Moreover, half of employees in the sector had an undergraduate education, meaning that higher education was an incredibly powerful force in the creative economy.

“Higher education has been, and will continue to be, pivotal to the growth of our sector,” he said.

But Mr Carrington added that the Government was “prejudiced”, believing that future prosperity depended on STEM skills. He said this bias could destroy the creative sector.

“The universities that have nurtured our creative industries are being challenged by two really dangerous factors,” he said. “The first is the risk posed by the Government ring-fencing funding for STEM, which has necessarily reduced the funding available for the rest of the sector. The second danger is that the creative industries are largely made up of thousands of small businesses.”

The framework for higher education, unveiled by Lord Mandelson earlier this month, makes it clear that businesses will be expected to make more of a contribution towards the costs of university research and teaching.

But Mr Carrington said the creative sector did not have the money to contribute in the way the Government envisaged.

“Our business partners are far more numerous but generally much smaller, with much smaller training and research budgets,” he said.

“The terrible danger for our sector is that the creative industries won’t have the capacity to support us and we will shrink.”

Mr Simon rejected claims that demand for creative skills equalled that for STEM expertise, even within the creative sector.

“One of the things that [digital and creative employers] constantly say is that they need more graduates with high-level skills in STEM subjects,” he said.

“It’s a misconception that creative industries need only conventionally creative backgrounds. They also need high-level maths, physics and computer skills.”

He also claimed that academics “underestimated the capacity of the creative industries” to contribute financially to higher education.

However, his response drew derision from delegates.

Geoffrey Crossick, warden of Goldsmiths, University of London, said that many creative sectors were crying out for graduates with artistic and creative talent.

He said: “The disciplines represented here think that the Government doesn’t rate them at all. From what we see in policy, that seems true.”

Mr Simon said he would pass on the delegates’ concerns to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

“I hope the message does get through, but I’m not sure BIS returns calls from the DCMS,” Professor Crossick replied.

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