Shake-up urged in art teaching

Report from top academics suggests a greater role for business in courses, writes Zoe Corbyn

September 4, 2008

The teaching of art and design in UK universities is not fit for purpose, according to a major review of the discipline.

The Group for Learning in Art and Design (GLAD) has called for a radical shake-up to make the subject more interdisciplinary and to increase the involvement of business. The proposals from GLAD, a membership organisation of university and college lecturers of art and design, will be debated next week at a conference at Nottingham Trent University.

"It is an early warning to the community that if the model of teaching does not evolve then the subject could stagnate," said John Last, chair of GLAD and the deputy principal of the Arts Institute at Bournemouth.

The review, which combines contributions from 50 leading academics, identifies the creative industries as an important part of the economy and makes recommendations on how teaching needs to evolve to keep up with industry developments.

It recommends a move away from narrow subject-based study to interdisciplinary working - bringing different disciplines into much closer contact - to better reflect the multidisciplinary nature of the creative industries. "The way the creative industries operate are often as collaborative partnerships across individual disciplines, and we need to make sure we reflect that in the way that we teach and learn. We need a collaborative model as opposed to a discrete model ... (with) people from graphic design and product design working together," he told Times Higher Education.

The review also recommends stronger business involvement in the courses. "There is a very strong tradition (of this) in art and design (already), but we should try and evolve it so we have a closer fit with the creative industries. It would be a shame if we lost competitive advantages through not engaging well with our industry," Mr Last said.

He also said it was important to defend the "studio tradition" of the discipline, which puts a premium on hands-on learning. "Over the years it has proven to be the best way. It is under threat because of the resourcing constraints that institutions have, both in terms of student numbers and pressures on space."

Linda Drew, editor of the report, The Student Experience in Art and Design Higher Education: Drivers for Change, and dean of academic development at University of the Arts London, said art education was "at risk of becoming conservative".

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