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.”

Chairing Creative Industries Federation expert group

I am pleased to be chairing an expert group tasked with examining the urgent challenges facing creative education (HE and FE) for the Creative Industries Federation.

The group will examine policy area crucial not just to education, but the future success of the UK’s creative industries and arts – in the light of the Green Paper, the spending review and changes to immigration policy. It will examine issues including the teaching excellence framework (TEF), proposed cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowance, age limits on postgraduate loans, and the place of universities in culture-led regeneration and in Europe.

Find out more about the group in my interview with the Times Higher Education.

My 2016 predictions for the Times Higher Education

The Times Higher Education approached me to comment on my predictions for 2016. The full article is here and you can read my thoughts below.

“In 2016, the detail of the higher education Green Paper will preoccupy people who could usefully focus on first principles. Lecturers and technicians need active students, and vice versa. Subjects like maths and law are taught differently to science and creative subjects. A successful education is measured longitudinally across a career or lifetime, rather than by output metrics or a snapshot within a year of graduation. One size does not fit all. It is vital we work closely with policymakers to recognise the real nature and diversity of the sector.”

Universities Minister launches HE reforms at Central Saint Martins

We welcomed Universities Minister Jo Johnson to Central Saint Martins this week during which he announced his plans for changes to HE in England. He is proposing the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), an Office for Students as a student ‘champion’, targets to recruit more disadvantaged and ethnic minority students and degrees with point scores as well as grades.


Ahead of his Education Green Paper, UAL submitted written evidence to the BIS Select Committee enquiry into Assessing the Quality of Higher Education. Our key message is that, whatever the nature of the institution, the teaching in each faculty is inherently specialist, subject-specific and methodologically different.

Celebrating 70 years of the Design Council

As part of their 70th anniversary celebrations this year, the Design Council asked me a few questions about the changes that have taken place in the British design industry over the past 70 years, and why design continues to be so important to our economy and society. I also talked about UAL’s relationship with the Design Council over the years, including the funding they have provided for a series of projects by UAL’s Design Against Crime Research Centre since 2001, which designs out opportunity for crime and influencing behaviours.

I have posted my responses to these questions on my Huffington Post UK blog.

New UAL Chancellor Grayson Perry on Channel 4 News

Last week Channel 4 News visited Chelsea College of Arts to interview our new Chancellor Grayson Perry at the Chelsea postgraduate summer show (pictured below with Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman).

Cathy Newman and Grayson Perry

As I said when Grayson’s appointment as Chancellor was announced back in March, he has an astounding ability to speak for the maker, the student and the audience of art, which makes him perfect for this role.  Grayson said in his Channel 4 interview that his mission as Chancellor is to act as “an ambassador for creative education”, and I look forward to working closely with him to continue to champion the importance of art and design.

My response to recent higher education policy proposals in Design Week

This week I was asked by Design Week to comment on recent higher education policy proposals put forward by Universities Minister, Jo Johnson. I am concerned what effect these proposals will have on students as we cannot expect them to make up the short-fall in government subsidy.

“The creative industries are the fastest growing sector in the UK, worth £72billion a year to the economy. Graduate education is a requirement of 60% of jobs in the sector. Creative education universities have to provide specialised machinery, workshops and technicians. But we have no specialist subsidy.”

You can read my quote and the article in full on the Design Week website.

Policy Forum London speech: The role of higher education in supporting the creative economy

I delivered the keynote speech at the Policy Forum for London on the role of higher education in supporting the creative economy.

I wanted to show how the creative economy and creative universities relate to each other, and the Olympicopolis project in East London on the site of the 2012 Games provided an ideal starting point.

In 2021, University of the Arts London will bring the 5,500 students of our London College of Fashion to Stratford Waterfront, alongside new spaces for V&A, Sadler’s Wells and the Smithsonian Institution. Meanwhile, UCL East will be the site of a new university campus for University College London.

So why are two of the world’s top universities, two of its top museums and a world centre for dance becoming such close neighbours?

Some people will describe it as the creation of a new cultural centre for London. For me, that’s the less interesting half of the truth.

The cultural attractions of Olympicopolis are, of course, seductive to lovers of the Arts. But that’s not the real point. Olympicopolis’ cultural impact will be dwarfed by its effect on the competitiveness of East London and the UK over the coming decades.

My argument is that we should really see the Olympicopolis scheme as critical industrial infrastructure for the creative economy.

Taken as a whole, what the cultural and educational institution will be doing at Olympicopolis is to create a machine to change culture, not simply exhibit it.

So what are the practical uses of art and design? My answer is that creative graduates do three important things, one quite grand, the others very practical.

The grand purpose is that society is regenerated through culture.

Professor Ezio Manzini is UAL’s Chair of Design for Social Innovation. He is perhaps the world’s leading expert on sustainable design and a major advocate of the theory of cultural resilience… how societies repair themselves and grow.

In a talk last week, he argued that art makes sense of the world’s problems by trying to change the world, often by making provocative work which challenges convention. Design makes sense of the world’s problems by trying to solve the problem. Human culture is continually regenerated by the interaction of these approaches and their core effort to make sense of the world.

If that is the grand purpose, there are also very strong economic arguments linking higher education and the creative industries.

Crucially, the creative industries are largely staffed by creative graduates, for whom there is huge demand.

The UK’s creative industries employ more people than the financial sector or advanced manufacturing. And on average, 60% of those jobs are graduate entry. In the case of some of the fastest growing creative sectors, animation would be one, the proportion of graduates is closer to 80%. Around three-quarters of UAL’s graduates go on to work in these jobs. To give you a feel for our level of influence, nearly two-thirds of the designers showing at the recent London Fashion Week were UAL graduates.

And, to put it in economic terms, our graduates are there to innovate – to generate intellectual property… a point made in the UK government definition of the creative industries.

This point about generating intellectual property – or newness – is to me the most persuasive economic argument for the value of creative education. Creativity is not just about challenging convention. It is also a highly marketable skill and has an economic impact. In other words, creative education is not only huge fun and personally enriching: it also teaches the immensely practical and sought-after skill of how to be innovative.

And creative talent has a broader potential beyond the core creative industries. In its excellent Manifesto for the Creative Economy, the UK innovation charity Nesta estimated that 59 per cent of creatively-occupied workers in the UK work outside the creative industries. Nesta calls this the creative economy – businesses which are not part of the creative industries, but are nevertheless major users of creative talent and hungry to build capabilities in creativity and design.

This reflects an evolution in the world economy. Creativity is now recognised – especially in developing economies such as China and Korea – as a key economic differentiator. In a world where goods can be made anywhere, innovation is increasingly important to a country’s ability to remain competitive.

Countries worldwide are hungry to understand and emulate the UK’s competitive edge in creativity. I have just returned from Hong Kong, where, following an approach by the Hong Kong Government, UAL will work in partnership with Hong Kong University to provide two UAL postgraduate courses which will prepare graduate students to work in Hong Kong’s rapidly expanding creative and cultural industries. And these courses will largely be taught by flying faculty from UAL in London.

So far, this just goes to show Britain’s soft power at work – another way in which creative universities sustain global culture.

Which brings us to Olympicopolis which will become for the broader creative and cultural industries – and fashion in particular – what Silicon Roundabout is doing for the digital industries in Shoreditch.

In my opinion there are four key factors which I believe need to be brought into alignment if the full energy and potential of our creative and cultural sectors is to be realised.

First: we need well-educated, talented people, delivered through higher education. Olympicopolis will have two of the world’s top universities in different fields – University of the Arts London and University College London.

Second: we must develop more geographical clusters of like-minded people and like-minded sectors. Creative people tend to live near each other. This isn’t a mystical preference. It’s the most practical way to get new ideas and collaborators: it’s why universities – still, despite all the focus on the digital – are physical places. But (and this will be an important policy challenge for the Mayor’s office) the surging domestic and office rents in East London will need closely managing if the creative workforce are to stay in town.

Third: we need to develop our cultural and educational hubs. As super-consumers of culture and fashion, artists work where they play and live. This is why the V&A, Smithsonian and Sadler’s Wells are so critical to the regeneration of the area in and around the Olympic Park.

Fourth, of course, we must have government policy that actively values the application of creative skills. The leadership that the GLA has given in backing Olympicopolis, as I hope I have shown, is visionary for the creative economy. It builds on government backing for the Olympics and their legacy.

It is an ambitious project in the scale of its buildings but, more importantly, it will be a practical boost to the creative economy. And it will work in Olympicopolis, as it has worked in Kings Cross, where UAL became anchor tenant four years ago with our Central Saint Martins campus.

Creative universities such as University of the Arts London are central to the creative economy. Our graduates staff the creative economy. We generate intellectual property and economic value through innovation.

But above all, directly and indirectly, we change society.

We aim to bring all those facets of our mission to East London over the coming years.

Quote in Guardian Higher Education Network on arts cuts

I was asked to contribute to a piece on the Guardian Higher Education Network about how further cuts to arts education funding by the government will stifle the next generation of creative talent.

“Creativity has a big economic impact and it needs to be taught. The new government must make the connection, putting Britain’s creative education on equal terms with other subjects.”

Read the article and my quote in full on the Guardian Higher Education Network site.