The OfS’ one-size-fits-all approach to course value will stifle creativity

Requiring 60 per cent of graduates to go into managerial or professional roles ignores the reality of creative careers, says Bashir Makhoul

January 31, 2022
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Creativity and the arts are central to how a society responds to change, understands the past and makes its future. But the UK’s ability to nurture creativity will be damaged by the Office for Students’ proposal to penalise universities if less than 60 per cent of their undergraduates go into “managerial or professional employment” or further study after graduation.

Arts universities are proven to produce more entrepreneurs, solo freelancers and weeks of employment per head than any other type of higher education institution. The creative industries account for nearly 6 per cent of the entire UK economy – and growing. Yet creative professionals do not go straight from university into steady 9-to-5 jobs. We create and innovate. We fail and succeed. Our career trajectories are positively messy at times.

That is why the English regulator’s narrow, metrical proposal to measure course quality, on which it is now consulting, is so misguided. It would penalise the providers of specialist creative and arts education merely because the career structures of their graduates differ from those of more traditional professional fields.

Further, any government or regulator that, by accident or design, damages the education required to drive the creative industries is directly harming the aspirations and declared objectives of “Global Britain”. It would be inexplicably self-destructive to do anything that would hobble an important part of the country’s global reach. But where does the government imagine the future innovators and professionals in the creative industries will come from?

It is the arts universities that have fuelled the UK’s global leadership in this sector; indeed, the UK is also emerging as a world-leading creative education provider, too. But constraining the freedom and creativity of universities with one-size-fits-all metrics will cause a race to the bottom in innovation. It will lead to students and staff seeking opportunities in other countries that better value and support arts universities’ contribution to economic, social and cultural development. England will join those floundering, centrally planned and autocratic higher education systems that are constantly wringing their hands over how to address the “innovation problem”.

When Peppa Pig – created by one of our graduates – is being used as an aspirational example of UK economic success by a government that seeks to penalise the creative education that underlies that success, what does that say about political honesty – or ability to join up the dots? It is hard to fathom the reasoning behind the proposed use of centralised, bean-counting metrics: one is left with the impression that it must be the product of parochial politics. But if “Global Britain” is going to be anything other than a mirage, the government needs its agencies, such as the OfS, to consider, at the very least, the law of unintended consequences – not pander to its every short-term, short-sighted demand.

As Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, put it: “Student outcomes are not the only markers of quality and value. Universities should also consider how courses contribute to public services such as the NHS, to business creation and skills needs in local areas, and their contribution to cultural activity and the environment.” Measuring student success through outcomes alone will lead to an impoverished cultural, social and economic landscape.

The OfS’ myopic metrics are all the more unforgivable when they are adopted in the name of students. Arts students’ aspirations and opportunities will be diminished by them. And while creative careers may not meet the measures that the OfS wants to adopt today, I can guarantee that they are emblematic of the portfolio and entrepreneurial career structure of tomorrow’s industries.

If the OfS were true to its name and really did have students at the heart of its policymaking, it would be thinking beyond the headlines. It would develop a framework that looks at student personalisation, long-term success and contribution. It would look beyond short-term employment destinations and towards long-term success in a global economic context.

By all means let’s seek quality education for all students. But if anyone thinks this can be done through limited and crudely applied metrics, then think again – and with a little more creativity and innovation this time.

Bashir Makhoul is president and vice-chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts.


Print headline: Creative destruction

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Reader's comments (1)

The author makes a very valid point. Until HE is solely about fitting people into employment then this is a very regressive move, it is not a true measure of the worth of studying.