Art & Design study pathways and graduate outcomes - latest reports round up

Over the last two weeks, NSEAD has commented on issues raised by the Augur Report the, the provisional entries for GCSE and A level summer 2019 exam series and the decision by the Russell Group to focus on subject choices rather than so called ‘facilitating subjects’. These seperate news items bring cause for optimism, but also caution. They are connected by one key issue: the need to protect and preserve high quality art & design study routes. Young people must be able to access high quality art & design led courses at GCSE and A level and make well informed choices unclouded by prejudice about the status and value of these subjects. The context for this was helpfully laid out for us by the Creative Industries Federation in a report that makes the case for public investment in the arts - to feed both the booming creative economy, and the well being of our society.

Government statistics suggest that entries for A level Art & Design continue to fall whilst GCSE entries have risen by 9%. Worryingly, at the same time there has been a large decrease in candidate numbers for Design & Technology. Reported this year to be as much as -28%. Whilst Ofqual is indicating that the change might reflect the changes to specifications, NSEAD members are continuing to report very concerning indications that they are being asked to teach graphic communication; textile design and three-dimensional design within D&T departments.

It is unclear whether these specifications are being delivered by Art & Design specialists, and whether routes to Art & Design ‘A’ level, taught by specialists, are being preserved. Future choices of specialist study routes are potentially being compromised, at a time when the importance of informed subject choices for HE study has been recognised by the Russell Group.

In launching the Informed Choices website, the Russell Group have clearly stated that they do not promote a damaging hierarchy of subjects for study. The Russell Group website states:

“We have sometimes heard other people suggest that facilitating subjects are the only subjects pupils should consider to get into a Russell Group university, or that you must take them for any degree. This has never been the case.”

This message needs to be repeated - often - if the damage done by the ‘facilitating subjects’ list is to be reversed. But we can celebrate this as an important move forward.

It is vitally important of course that our FE and HE institutions are able to provide excellent quality and range of Art & Design courses. We welcome the Augur report’s recognition that the FE sector has been critically underfunded, but share concerns at the proposal that this could be addressed by extending the repayment period of student loans. This is a regressive tax that will hit middle and lower earning graduates the hardest.

The report also recognises that the current funding system under-invests in some high-cost subjects to the detriment of the economy and argues they should be better supported. Certainly Creative Arts are costly to teach to a high quality; additional funding will be required if tuition fees are reduced to a baseline of £7500 p/a.

When considering value for money, we are concerned that the criteria used to determine the value of graduate level study do not accurately reflect the true value of study in the Creative arts. We point to the GuildHE commissioned report that outlines the limitations of LEO data

Due consideration needs to be made to the value added to other sectors by Creative Arts graduates, as well as wider social value. The Creative Industries Federation report that for every job supported by arts and culture, an additional 1.65 jobs are supported in the wider economy.

We challenge the assumption that low pay is evidence of over-supply to the market and call for an investigation into the factors that may influence graduate earnings, including the gender pay gap and equalities that may be hidden within graduate outcome measures.

As ever, we need to dig deeper, ask questions, and make the right connections.

11 Jun 2019