Thinking big. Megacities and education in 21st Century urbanism

Last week I spoke at the British Council’s ‘Megacities: education in 21st century urbanism’ roundtable event.

In the last forty years the world has seen cities grow in size and autonomy with only three megacities in 1976 soaring to more than thirty in 2016. Megacities account for 13% of the world’s urban inhabitants and 7% of the world’s total population.

Living, working and leading these cities presents opportunities but also challenges. Higher education is suffering from a failure of the imagination when it comes to really big cities. We understand them academically, but we don’t understand them as well as we should from our perspective as individual institutions, as landlords, as export businesses and as corporate citizens. This diminishes our impact. It risks making universities ordinary in places where we should be extraordinary. We need to think on a more ambitious scale.

We need to reap the benefits of the intellectual, social and industrial capital we create in our students. Universities help form the character, population and fortune wherever they are and especially in great cities. They are instruments of social cohesion and social mobility. They create knowledge which shapes industries and political thinking.

These effects in part arise naturally from graduate activity, which we cannot consciously direct. But universities can and should create the conditions for success. We can and should set out to entwine ourselves in our cities. We can and should work with local government to ensure that our students remain in the area after graduation.

You can listen to all of the speeches in full, including mine, on the British Council website.

Why UK higher education sector must direct its energy to send our students abroad

I was approached to write a blog post on why the UK higher education sector must direct its energy to send our students abroad.

Inward mobility is the great urgent theme of our time. We call it migration and it shapes our politics, changes how we manage our borders, underpins our economies and changes our culture. At the national and institutional levels, we are determined to plan for it, even if our plans may sometimes seem rather extraordinary.

By contrast, outward mobility is not an urgent theme, although it is the reflection of inward mobility and makes an important contribution to international competitiveness. According to the UK Strategy for Outward Mobility, just 6% of university students travel abroad as part of their degree. Comparative figures are hard to come by for other countries, but we know the UK receives twice as many Erasmus students as we send abroad.

Read the full blog on the Universities UK website


Can Creativity Be Learned – And Should Normal People Bother?

To celebrate the launch of The creative Stance, I wrote on my Huffington Post blog page why there has never been a more important time to understand the creative process and why it should become a normal part of how we teach.

The Creative Stance

The Creative Stance, a book co-published by UAL and Common-Editions, has been released to coincide with UAL 30 Years On – a year of events and activity marking three decades since the London Institute, now UAL, formed to save London’s prestigious art and design colleges.

With new essays and creative conversations with artists such as Sonia Boyce (Artist, RA and UAL Professor), artist Bob and Roberta Smith, and award winning artist and writer Edmund de Waal OBE (author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes), The Creative Stance is essential reading for anyone involved in the creative arts.

Read the full Huffington Post blog post, order The Creative Stance or find out more about UAL 30 Years On here.

UAL responses to Government inquiries on immigration and exiting the EU

Over the past couple of months, UAL has responded to two Government inquiries; one into immigration and one into the impact of exiting the European Union on higher education. Both of these issues have a considerable impact on UAL and it’s important our voice is heard.

Read UAL’s written evidence on the impact of exiting the European Union on higher education here and find out more about the Immigration Inquiry here.

Commenting on the importance of international students in the media

International students are a vital part of higher education in the UK. The ideas we generate, our research, our global networks, and the business opportunities create are all reliant on international students.

As a result, I am always pleased to comment in the media on this subject. I spoke to the Guardian about the impact of the Brexit vote on the number of EU/international students accepting places at UK universities.

I was pleased to be invited by Dazed magazine to give my thoughts on the Government’s proposals to cut international student numbers and the knock-on impact that could have on the fashion industry. I was quoted alongside a number of colleagues from Central Saint Martins. The article was also picked up by GQ in their round-up of ‘must-read’ articles on fashion business.

UAL 30 Years On – looking back and looking forward

Exactly 30 years ago, seven art and design colleges came together as the institution which later became UAL. This visionary decision ensured that they survived the radical restructuring imposed on local government in London at that time. Other art schools fell by the wayside. Our unification strengthened the colleges, and the university has become a global leader as a result.

The last year has again shown our influence. The QS World University Rankings place us in the Top 5 universities in the world for art and design. HEFCE judged UAL’s teaching to be world leading in its latest funding round, and gave us access to additional funding.

Our new research partnership with King’s College London combines our design thinking and their policy expertise in the emerging field of policy innovation. Our two-year project with the International Curators Forum will address the under-representation of curators from minority ethnic backgrounds. We curated the largest ever exhibition of European performance design, touring to cities in China.

Meanwhile, our students, alumni and staff continue to rock the world. They formed over half the designers at London Fashion Week AW16, with four colleges represented. The 2015 Turner Prize Winner was a collective that includes three UAL tutors; three out of four nominees for the Turner Prize in 2016 are UAL alumni. Amidst six Oscar nominees, alumna Jenny Beavan won an Academy Award and BAFTA for Best Costume Design for her work on Mad Max: Fury Road, which starred alumnus Tom Hardy.

And alumna Stella McCartney designed the Team GB kit for Rio 2016. But UAL has rarely operated in a more uncertain and turbulent environment than now, at our 30th anniversary as an institution.

Leaving the EU could have a profound impact on UAL in the longer-term, particularly to our research partnerships and in recruitment – we draw 15% of our students from the EU. Nevertheless, our plans will continue to be based on the conviction that knowledge and art are borderless, and will reflect our ongoing commitment to international collaboration.

At the same time, the Government’s new higher education legislation – launched at UAL – is the biggest shake-up for a generation. UAL has led a partnership with the Creative Industries Federation to ensure our sector’s voice is heard in the preparation of this legislation. The most financially significant change is the proposal to use the new Teaching Excellence Framework to determine future fee increases.

I regret to report that the Government’s manifesto commitment to promote STEM subjects at secondary school has been achieved at the expense of arts subjects.

This Summer’s GCSE entries saw a further fall of 7.7% in the uptake of creative, artistic and technical subjects, reducing the pipeline of prospective UK students into creative education. Again, we have worked with others to ensure the Government understands the impact on the creative economy.

In this context, we have further increased the involvement of college based staff in the way we run the University. Each Pro Vice-Chancellor now has an institution-wide remit.

These include the student experience, research, digital, and international strategy. And we have created a new University Operating Board which includes all Directors of College Administration.

We are now well underway with our estates plans, which will improve the learning and the social experience for students. These will put UAL at the heart of creative enterprise zones at Stratford, Elephant & Castle and Camberwell, just as we have achieved at King’s Cross. We have already topped-out at Camberwell with a new hall of residence and additional teaching space.

An artist’s impression of the chosen concept for Olympicopolis – final designs will be revealed later this year.

An artist’s impression of the chosen concept for the Stratford Development

I am confident that UAL will continue to meet its challenges, and deliver our strategy 2015–22, Transformative education for a creative world. While we will be tested, we can rely on our financial robustness, the direction of our strategy, and the stellar quality of our students, as we prepare for the next 30 years.

“Our biggest contribution to the quality of education may be in shaping pupils’ minds”

Sketch by Lewis Barton, UAL Staff, 2016

Sketch by Lewis Barton, UAL Staff, 2016

Pixar, famed for Toy Story, Ratatouille and Monsters Inc to name just a few, is one of the most successful creative animation studios in the last twenty years. It generates billions of pounds, providing jobs to millions, playing a vital role in the economy.  But it’s not simply the creative talent of animation artists and CGI specialists that has got it to that point. In his wonderful 2014 book, Creativity Inc, co-founder of Pixar Ed Catmull, tells us that Pixar insists that all employees do a drawing course when they join. They recognise the value of a creative education in all parts of the organisation – whether they are in film-making or finance, Pixar is the sum of its parts and creativity in process as well as art and design is what makes it the innovative, imaginative, pioneering organisation it is today.

With such huge public success, and a fantastic example of the benefit of creative education to the economy, it is, as Catmull says, “why it is so frustrating that funding for arts programmes in schools has been decimated. And those cuts stem from a fundamental misconception that art classes are about learning to draw. In fact, they are about learning to see.”

The value and importance of a creative education is plain to see with the creative industry making up nearly a quarter of the workforce and £71.4 billion to the economy (according to official figures released by DCMS) but education policy has not caught up. Somehow we are still battling cuts and for art and design to be included in the Ebacc system which is now at its last ditch in the Parliamentary debate on 4 July 2016. Recent findings from the NSEAD survey 2015-16, shows that there is a decrease in the amount of time allotted for art and design at primary and secondary level, falls in levels of attainment when going into Secondary level, and a reduction in skills required for exams.

It is true that the dice appear to be loaded against us. Art and design teaching is increasingly isolated in the timetable and under-resourced. While Progress 8 will undeniably generate some fascinating Big Data on progression routes, it will also push arts and design down the pecking order behind Maths, English and the EBacc subjects.


Given these barriers, can we survive and continue to meet the demand for trained creative people? I believe we can, if we display the self-belief so characteristic of our sector. And there are opportunities to take in the next years.

The argument that art and design matters on its own account hasn’t worked. The time has therefore come to talk about the contribution it makes to the quality of education – to insist that no school, no academy and no pupil can be called excellent unless they have undertaken some arts subjects.

That sounds ambitious, but consider this. In 2015, Michigan State University published research showing that – compared to scientists in general – elite scientists are more likely to have an avocation (or hobby) in arts and crafts. Nobel Prize Winners are almost three times more likely than average scientists to be this sort of polymath.

An analysis of scholarship applicants to the Institute of Civil Engineers showed the most gifted engineering students are overwhelmingly likely to have studied creative subjects alongside STEM at GCSE, as reported in The Creative Industries’ Creative Education Agenda.

With a government solely focussed on improving STEM results, is it time they learnt how to see things differently?

It is important to make politicians see creative education differently but we also need to see differently as educators. Our biggest contribution to the quality of education may not be our direct contribution to the creative industries, but in shaping pupils’ minds.


Education is a two-way street, particularly at higher levels: it is responsive. It changes with new evidence, new interests and new priorities. It has an active engagement with the whole of society, the whole of knowledge. This is fair play.

Fair play isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Ofsted school inspection handbook 2015. Instead, Ofsted follows the government’s list of fundamental British values, and I quote:

democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

It is a good list. But behind all this is the government’s agenda to fight terrorism. And I know there will be some in this room who are very uncomfortable with how that agenda is being achieved. In higher education, the Prevent agenda is causing great discomfort, including student protest.

While I recognize our duties as educators under the law, I share the concern that education should be open to all points of view, including those we find uncomfortable.

But as I said, education is a two-way street. If British values contain — as they should — the whole of society, if we show how people of different beliefs and different ethnicity have made a contribution to our British values, these stop being something we impose on others, and start being something we can all get behind.

And art and design have a crucial role to play in this. Not because of the knowledge we teach, or the skills we encourage, but because — as Ed Catmull says — we help people see differently.

This blog post is a shortened version of a speech delivered by Nigel Carrington at the NSEAD Annual Conference

Nothing to learn from the Culture White Paper

Following the launch of Ed Vaizey’s Culture White Paper last month, I have written a Huff Post Politics blog on the absence of arts education in the White Paper.

LCC Archive & Study Centre (C) Ana Escobar

Image showing the LCC Archive & Study Centre (C) Ana Escobar

Below is an excerpt from the piece, which you can read in full here.

Our much-liked minister for culture, Ed Vaizey, has produced a White Paper for culture, only the second of its kind. He is to be praised for putting down a marker for the government on culture.

So how do his ideas stack up against the great Jennie Lee, who set the bar 50 years ago in the first ever Culture White Paper, A Policy for the Arts?

Vaizey’s Culture White Paper is set against the background of a general retreat by national and local government from culture. And while Bevan’s NHS remains a sacred cow for each generation of politicians, Lee’s vision has been watered down ever since.

Against this background, Vaizey had been expected to show how creativity drives the wider government agenda. This was to be a great broadening out. That intent is still referred to in the introduction. But it gets lost in the delivery.

When it comes to practicalities, we find a tight focus on the subsidised cultural sector. This is culture as delivered by museums and theatres, not the broad-based culture of film, of gaming, of interactive design and graphic design, nor of the behemoth of culture that is the BBC. It speaks to a government preoccupied by its residual subsidy to bricks and mortar… very literally, in a £20m gesture to cathedral roofs.

The most obvious absence, in contrast to Lee’s ideas, is the hole where education used to be.


Response to the Prime Minister’s comments on diversity in Higher Education


Following David Cameron’s comments on diversity in HE, I wrote for the Guardian’s Higher Education Network on the policy decisions – predominantly the EBacc – which are posing a threat to getting more disadvantaged pupils into higher education. Below is an excerpt from the piece, which you can read in full here.

Let’s state the obvious. Universities are more open and diverse than they used to be, thanks to government policy and light-touch regulation. When the tuition fee cap rose to £9,000, we were instructed to spend some of the money on widening participation. This gave us the autonomy and funding – as well as a clear target – to do better.

As of 2015-16, black and minority ethnic students make up nearly a third of my university’s undergraduate cohort. Many other institutions have made similar progress. We plan to go further. In that sense, I don’t see huge challenges in increased targets.

But you can’t get to university before you’ve been to school. So while the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is making the right noises about tertiary education, the Department for Education’s (DfE) English Baccalaureate is cutting access at secondary level to one of the UK’s big education success stories.


Sadiq Khan visits Central Saint Martins


We hosted Labour’s London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan at Central Saint Martins this week. He took a tour of the building, met students and staff and was interviewed by Sky News on the Terrace.

It was a great opportunity for us to reiterate our three key asks for the incoming London Mayor:

  • Assert the primary importance of the creative industries to London’s economy
  • Support the creation of a fashion cluster for East London
  • Sustain City Hall’s investment in creative education in regeneration priority areas

He seemed to enjoy his visit, tweeting (to his 77k followers:

“Wonderful morning at @UniArtsLondon – they’re a key reason London is a world leader in arts, design and much more.”