Designed for modern life

September 19, 1997

Drama and design courses continue to become more popular

THE GROWTH in consumerism in the latter half of the 20th century, coupled with developments in media, fashion and multimedia, has ensured a steady expansion of design courses.

But the field is extremely broad and difficult to define. Mick Durman, dean of Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, one of the biggest providers of design courses, says of the discipline: "It stretches from ceramics/glass, silversmithing and jewellery, fine furniture making and embroidery through to hard-nosed industrial, product and graphic design. In some areas, such as photography, printmaking and silversmithing and jewellery, there can also be elements of the fine arts."

Until this year, the Art and Design Admissions Registry was largely responsible for art and design course applications. The registry is now part of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and is merging its applications procedure with that of UCAS.

ADAR has traditionally used a "Route B" applications system that involves applicants listing four choices in order of preference. By contrast, UCAS operates a "Route A" procedure, which allows simultaneous consideration of all choices made by applicants.

The procedures are being merged, offering art and design applicants a combination of the two routes, with a maximum of six choices but no more than four through Route B. UCAS says the new procedure will allow applicants to mix art and design choices with those from other disciplines.

Excluding fine art, subject areas under the ADAR's design umbrella include graphic design, industrial product design, 3D design,fashion, furniture design, theatre design and interior/spatial design.

Typical of the "grey areas" where fine art often mingles with design are subject areas such as illustration. Only if the course involves scientific, technical or medical illustration is it classed under design by ADAR. Areas not covered by the registry include engineering design, some design and technology courses, and architecture.

Some areas of design have seen rapid growth, while others have remained stable.

Professor Durman says there are complex reasons why areas such as visual communication/graphic design and fashion/textiles continue to be popular, while three-dimensional design subjects like furniture and ceramics/glass have remained relatively static.

The explosion in youth culture stemming from developments in media, fashion and television have certainly had an impact on theformer: "The profile of British fashion in recent years for instance has been tremendous,"Professor Durman says.

He suggests that one reason why three-dimensional design has not experienced more growth is because schools lack resources. "Perhaps schoolchildren are not coming into enough contact with the materials, processes and techniques needed in three-dimensional design. It is a pity because these areas are of direct importance to the economy."

But it is not just the school experience letting the field down. While Professor Durman praises industry support through initiatives such as the Teaching Company Scheme, he says firms could do more to develop partnerships with colleges to foster 3D design talent.

Teaching quality assessment of art and design in England is not due until 1998/99. Scotland, however, has been assessed and in graphic design and textile design. Edinburgh College of Art, Glasgow School of Art, Robert Gordon University and Scottish College of Textiles all achieved a "highly satisfactory" rating. The University of Dundee was judged excellent.

Information on employment of art and design graduates is notoriously difficult to obtain. But a recent study by Birmingham Institute of Art and Design of its own graduates suggests that concerns about the employment potential of art and design graduates is overstated.

Four-fifths of 668 graduates were in some form of employment five years after graduating, with one-third self-employed. The highest employment was among fashion/textiles graduates.

Most were still involved in art and design with their income rising steadily from the first to the third year and then stabilising. One-fifth of the cohort found jobs as teachers.


* In 1996 there were 15,200 first-choice applications for design courses, according to ADAR figures, and 9,082 acceptances. By comparison, there were 6,900 acceptances in 1990/91.

* The number of first-choice female applicants for design courses through ADAR in 1996 was 8,443. Applications from males totalled 6,760. In the same year 5,318 females were accepted for design courses. Males accepted totalled 3,764.

* Graphic design had 3,086 first-choice applications in 1996 - the highest of any design area. Of these, 1,0 were accepted.

* Lens-based media, covering courses in photography and film and video, attracted 1,967 first-choice applications last year, of which 710 were accepted. Acceptances totalled 900. In 1990/91, there were just 350.

* Fashion, another popular subject, had 1,690 first-choice applications in 1996, of which 800 were accepted. Acceptances on fashion courses through ADAR numbered 963, compared with 741 in 1990/91.

* Courses in metalwork and jewellery are less popular. The number of acceptances through ADAR in 1996 was 191, up from 156 in 1990/91. Similarly, acceptances in furniture design totalled just 224, compared with 126 in 1990/91.

Source: UCAS and HESA

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