Creative, digital and information technology (CDIT) industries must be just as important a policy focus for the government as science and engineering.
That is the view of David Docherty, chief executive of the Council for Industry and Higher Education, who said the digital field alone represented a $3 trillion (£1.9 trillion) marketplace globally.
"What's needed is for CDIT to stand alongside STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]," he told Times Higher Education.
Dr Docherty, who is also chairman of the Digital TV Group, was speaking ahead of Bridging the Gap, a conference organised by Teesside University and the skills agency Creative Skillset on how to improve the relationship between universities and media businesses.
He said the UK had been a leader in creative industries but had lost this premier position in the digital era. "How do we position ourselves to be as successful in the digital creative IT era as we are in broadcasting and production?" he asked.
Linking academic research and computing infrastructure with businesses, through schemes such as the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Brighton Fuse project, was one answer, he said.
Another would be to encourage universities to overcome the old divisions between the arts and engineering, and recognise the convergence of digital industries such as television and the internet, he added.
"Interdisciplinarity is an ugly word but if you go and ask chief executive officers of major creative and digital businesses what they need, they start with skills. We must produce a broad-based understanding of all the elements that go into a successful creative business."
Dr Docherty said institutions such as the University of Abertay Dundee and the University of Brighton were realising that they had to produce graduates who spanned more than one discipline because that was what businesses were demanding. "But I think the penny is dropping [everywhere]," he added.
Anthony Lilley, chief executive of media company Magic Lantern, also a keynote speaker at the event, told THE that government-funded bodies such as the research councils and the Technology Strategy Board were starting to work on bringing different disciplines and expertise together in a meaningful way.
But strategic oversight is required if the government is to avoid spreading efforts too widely, he added.
"The TSB's entire investment in digital media fits inside what [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] spends on one new building. So there's a question of picking your battles. The aim is to focus [government] efforts so we don't get 17 centres doing something ever so slightly different in [the] digital connected economy, and balancing that against the need for some competition."
Mr Lilley also emphasised the importance of not overestimating how much digital capabilities are changing the world. "You read in breathless papers that the connected economy is going to change everything...but you don't read about what won't change - and that's what's missing from the debate."