Grayson Perry criticises lack of diversity on art degrees

Turner prizewinner says universities should make greater efforts to recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds

March 27, 2018
Grayson Perry

Contemporary artist Grayson Perry has expressed concern about the low numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds studying arts degrees.

Turner prizewinner Mr Perry, who is chancellor of the University of the Arts London, told Times Higher Education that the predominance of middle-class students on creative courses was bad for the sector, and suggested that higher education institutions needed to make greater efforts to widen participation.

“As a lover of the arts, I don’t like the fact that people seem to think that the middle classes is the only place where we will get talented people. It’s not,” he said. “When I was at art college, most of the students were working class because it was free then. We need a more diverse spread of art students.”

Mr Perry suggested that, in an era of tuition fees in excess of £9,000 in England, many working-class students were put off studying art and design because they did not see it as a subject that would lead to high graduate earnings. "I think there is a deep fear...among working class students [about] the arts...because they don’t see it as a way of making a lot of money," he said. 

He questioned the growing focus on employability and suggested that students should choose to study art if they are passionate and driven to create things.

“Sometimes I see people in an art college and they don’t seem to actually like making art, they like the idea of being an artist and I want to tell them that that is not the right way round,” he said.

Mr Perry, who is best known for his ceramic vases, was speaking at the opening of the new building of the Camberwell College of Arts, part of UAL.

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that 13 per cent of young UK-domiciled entrants to creative arts and design courses in 2016-17 were from low-participation backgrounds, although this is higher than the average for all disciplines.

David Crow, UAL’s pro vice-chancellor (student experience) and head of Camberwell, Wimbledon and Chelsea colleges, told THE that there was a concern that students were focusing too heavily on the employment options offered by arts degrees, and were overlooking the creative aspect.

But he added that, if fewer students chose arts degrees, the UK’s creative industries could face a drought of new talent, which would have a significant impact on the economy.

Professor Crow added that most arts students ended up in careers in the creative industries and that there is often a better quality of life for those who work in the arts.

UAL’s curricula now include entrepreneurial skills and aim to teach students how to source work and diversify their careers. 

The university has also established a bursary scheme with Southwark Council for young people in the local area to come and study at the renovated college.

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Reader's comments (1)

All good points but what parent - working or middle class - would encourage their child into a career path they don't necessarily understand or see the value of and which is often denigrated by society as a hobby? Or fight to get them the specialist tuition schools are now withdrawing. IMHO we have to help parents understand the opportunities presented by the creative industries, even educate them, without wishing to sound patronising. Creativity and the arts are sometimes even derided in our schools and the institutional pressure on studying them is well known, with many now dropping one or more due to both budget cuts and performance objectives such as the EBacc and Progress 8 that don't value them. The impact of this is now filtering through to arts teacher training applications and may take decades to heal meaning our art schools will almost exclusively be full of students from private schools that do value the arts and overseas. I recently directed #ARTCONNECTS - a successful major three day event in King's Cross which set out to bring this important conversation out of education's echo chambers and to connect with parents, businesses and society and demonstrate the sort of collaboration and community engagement that the Universities Alliance presented recently to the Creative Industries Federation HE working group chaired by Nigel Carrington, VC at UAL (see blog here: Sadly and ironically given the event name, we weren't able to connect with UAL or Mr Perry to join other partners such as UCL, local secondary and primary schools in Camden (who have a STEAM Commission) and beyond as well as the generous businesses like Google, Barclays, Belstaff and Cass Art. We'd welcome wider support for next year's event in King's Cross from any partner institutions that value creativity in all its forms and are about to announce similar collaborations on pop-up events across the UK over the Summer term and beyond. Do email us on if you'd like to collaborate with us too and help us help school communities put #creativityfirst.

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