Painting a rosy picture

November 7, 1997

Royal College of Art graduates are having immense success securing course-related jobs. Kam Patel reports.

A survey of students who graduated from Royal College of Art between 1992 and 1996 shows more than 90 per cent of them gained employment in areas directly related to the subjects they studied.

Christopher Frayling, the RCA's rector, says: "We have always known that a very high proportion of our students on courses like computer-related design and vehicle design go on to occupy posts in their chosen industries.But this study has brought home the impact we are making across the board."

The survey covered all 23 of the RCA's courses, ranging across the fine arts, the applied arts, design, humanities and communications. Of the 1,539 RCA graduates over the survey period, 1,424 are now directly employed in their field. The response rate to the survey was 96 per cent.

In computer-related design all 33 graduates secured jobs in the field. Of the 72 from the goldsmithing, silversmithing, metalwork and jewellery course, 69 found jobs directly related to their discipline - a success rate of 96 per cent. For graphic design the success rate was 95 per cent; animation 96 per cent; printmaking 98 per cent; vehicle design 98 per cent; and ceramics and glass 81 per cent. Ninety-six of the 104 graduates in painting and 76 of the 83 from sculpture are practising professionals.

The RCA is the world's only wholly postgraduate college of art and design with university status. High-profile graduates of the college include David Hockney, designer James Dyson, film-maker Ridley Scott and fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. But Frayling says what is often overlooked is the "sheer depth" of the college's graduates. "They go on to make an effective contribution to the 'culture industries' that are burgeoning in the United Kingdom right now. The figures from the survey reveal we are doing our job better than we thought."

But Professor Frayling fears that a scrutiny by the Higher Education Funding Council for England of "specialist institutions" such as the Royal College of Art could result in the college's funding being cut.

The RCA's average unit of funding exceeds by a considerable margin that received by most other institutions of higher education, including those teaching art and design at undergraduate level. He says: "The results of the survey are a timely reminder of the value of the college's distinctive role and an indication of how crude an indicator of value 'cost per student' comparisons are." He contends that a comparison showing the cost preparing students to a stage where they are ready to make a real contribution in their particular professions, rather than the diffuse category of "employment", would tell a very different story.

Professor Frayling says: "This college has built its reputation upon, and achieved its pre-eminence through, the atelier-based system of teaching combined with emphasis on invention, originality and problem solving. There is little doubt that employers recognise the immense and ever-growing value of this learning process."

Companies and organisations employing RCA graduates include Richard Rogers, Terence Conran, Microsoft, Vivienne Westwood, Marks and Spencer, the BBC and Audi.

The survey has also highlighted a shift in employment patterns in the culture industry. Companies no longer only employ permanent in-house designers; there is now much greater emphasis on consultancy. Professor Frayling says an "impressive" number of RCA graduates are engaged as freelance or self-employed artists and designers working to commission. Most of them operate from independently established studios, sometimes sharing with other RCA graduates.

Recent works commissioned of RCA graduates include animated visuals for U2's worldwide "Pop Mart" tour, Royal Mail stamp illustration, furniture and glassware for Habitat, a gymnasium in Mayfair and illustration of novels including Ulysses and The Wide Sargasso Sea.

Professor Frayling also points to the contribution of RCA graduates abroad. The work of ceramics and glass graduates has been shown in Venice, Milan and San Francisco; of animators in Rome, Sydney and Hong Kong; and of painters in Paris, Madrid and Sydney.

He says it would be "ironic and more than a little sad" if in the light of recent pronouncementby government on the importance of the culture industries to the economy and the findings of the survey, HEFCE were to cut the college's teaching budget. "Although it is a small face-to-face establishment with about 800 students, its impact worldwide would appear from the survey results to be out of all proportion to its size," he says.



The contribution of design to the UKeconomy by Andrew Sentance and James Clarke, commissioned by the Design Council, Haymarket House, 1 Oxendon Street, London SW1

The British manufacturing industry spends Pounds 1O billion (at 1995 prices) on product development and design, including both in-house design activities and bought-in services. This is 2.6 per cent of manufacturing turnover. About 173,000 employees - 4.5 per cent of the workforce - are involved in design within the manufacturing industry.

Expenditure on product development and design by British industry exceeds its expenditure on research and development.

Across the British economy as a whole, total design and related activity is estimated to total over Pounds 12 billion (at 1995 prices), employing about 300,000 people. This is 1.8 per cent of UK Gross Domestic Product and 1.2 per cent of total employment.

Design contributes directly to the UK balance of payments, with overseas earnings by design consultancies estimated at over Pounds 350 million in 1995, one-quarter of overseas earnings, by consultancy businesses.

Design-intensive industries and firms are much more active in export markets. Sectors that invest heavily in product development and design, such as aerospace, mechanical engineering and chemicals, are also those in which the UK has a trade surplus.

Aerospace and motor vehicles are the sectors that invest most heavily in design within British industry. Other engineering-related industries also tend to spend above-average amounts on design. Paper-related industries and publishing are the lowest investors in design, according to our estimates.

Engineering, technical and process/systems design are the dominant design disciplines in British industry. But the more creative aspects of design are much more important outside engineering-related industries.

Expenditure on appearance design is heaviest in furniture, textiles and clothing, while graphic/brand design is particularly significant in publishing.

There is a noticeable "East of England" effect in the regional distribution of manufacturing design activity. Firms in East Anglia and the East Midlands spend more heavily on design, even allowing for differences in industrial concentration.

Devoting an additional 1 per cent of turnover to product development and design appears to raise turnover and profits by 3-4 per cent over five years. The impact on profits is strongest in the engineering-related industries and on turnover in consumer-oriented industries.

Design has a significant impact on growth. It is estimated that an increase of one-third in in-house design by British manufacturing industry is associated with a rise in the growth rate of manufacturing output by 0.3 per cent a year and the growth rate across the economy as a whole by 0.1 per cent a year.

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