Good design 'essential' for economic success

December 10, 2009

The Government is "discriminating" against design subjects and putting the economy at risk, Lord Mandelson has been warned.

In a letter to the First Secretary seen by Times Higher Education, Elaine Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts, argues that design should be classified alongside "strategically important" subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Professor Thomas claims that the Government is putting the economy at risk by not giving the same priority to design as it does to technology and the sciences.

The exclusion of design from the STEM classification "ignores the coterminous nature of these subjects with science in the employment market and the strategic significance of design as a contributor to the economy", she writes.

The Government's framework for the future of higher education, published last month, sets out a ten-year plan to rebuild Britain's economy and "invest in the skills and competitive strengths that will underwrite a sustainable recovery and balanced future economy". The Government aims to do this by investing in STEM subjects.

Professor Thomas, making the case for design to be included in the category, tells Lord Mandelson that the creative industries generate more than 16 per cent of the UK's gross domestic product and are expected to grow by 4 per cent by 2013.

"To discriminate against design as a subject fails to reflect its role to exploit new technology, to exploit new products and services," she says.

She points out that the iPod was a success because of its design, not simply because of the technology involved in developing it.

"The resulting products and services generate significantly more for the economy than the technological platforms on their own," she says.

"Design is closely allied to innovation and is widely recognised as a crucial ingredient in maintaining competitiveness in increasingly challenging markets."

In a statement responding to the leaked letter, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says the Government will ensure that it does not "spread scarce resources too thinly".

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