Standards are "patchy" on many design courses and there is evidence of "confusion" over their objectives, according to judges for the Royal Society of Arts annual student design competition.
In a report out this week the judges warn there is "growing
polarisation of student standards between the best and the rest". Alan Livingston, principal of Falmouth College of Arts and chairman of the RSA's design advisory board, said: "We believe that just leaning on the comfortable old assertion that we remain 'best in the world' will not ensure British design education stays ahead of the competition."
He called for extra vigilance about standards and an urgent debate about ways to improve them.
The judges' warnings are based on a lengthy assessment of entries to the RSA's 1998 student design competition. A similar assessment is being carried out for this year's competition, the winners of which the society has just announced.
Jeremy Myerson, based at the Royal College of Art and a member of the RSA advisory board, said this year's entries "show again that the very best student designers are as good as ever. But wider concerns about quality across the whole discipline highlighted in the report on last year's awards remain."
According to the report, standards were high in areas such as communication and landscape, packaging and furnishing textiles. New technology subjects like computer animation and interactive media "showed real vigour, purpose and progress". But the quality of work in other areas was disappointing. Transportation design, product design, glassware, fashion, graphic design and medical products in particular gave the judges "real cause for concern".
Within individual subjects, judges noted a fall-off in entries as tutors weeded out the weaker work. But submitted work still contained "few gems" which were shortlisted and "a large amount of mediocre, run-of-the-mill work showing evidence of a large number of students given insufficient support and direction".