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Too many demands are being placed on universities to support their regional economies, without sufficient support and partnership

University of Birmingham music building

The creative industries have long been heralded as a UK success story. The creative economy grew at twice the rate of the general UK economy during 2010-2016, resulting in the creative sector forming a key part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. Traditionally an industry dominated by London and the South-East, emerging creative clusters outside this stronghold mirror the government’s increased focus on supporting the regions. However, a skills shortage poses a significant challenge to the continued growth of creative clusters outside South-East England.

Increasingly, universities are expected to help address this skills shortage and provide a variety of additional benefits to employers in their region including; attracting and training a skilled workforce, acting as an innovation hub for R&D and acting as ‘anchor institutions’ within their locality. This is combined with their primary purpose to attract and educate students in a globally competitive education marketplace.

Put simply, there are too many demands being placed upon universities in terms of their role in supporting the Creative Industries in their regions, competing the ‘local’ with the ‘global’ and failing to take into account that universities are often large, complex and ‘loosely coupled’ institutions which seldom operate with a singular vision or goal.

Beyond the university, there are a variety of alternative sources of skills and training for Creative Industry sectors such as film and television. This wider skills ‘eco-system’ also includes apprenticeships, work placements, Further Education colleges, and specialised training providers and could offer the answer to skills provision, but a more granular understanding of regional skills ecosystems, and how regional education interacts with industry and regional government is needed. Historically, there has been a lack of trust from the creative sector in the ability of HEIs to provide up to date training and provide graduates that are ‘set/studio ready.’

Our new research for the AHRC-funded Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre focused on creative clusters in the West Midlands and South Wales as case studies to better determine what the role of the university within regional creative economies should be.

Both regions boast research intensive Russell Group institutions (University of Birmingham, University of Warwick & Cardiff University), as well as Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) that offer specialised courses related to the creative sector: Birmingham City University and Coventry University both offer degrees in coding and game development, and the University of South Wales’ Faculty of Creative Industries provide a wide array of subjects across the entire creative spectrum, from music to game design and VFX.

The research looked at two growing creative clusters in these localities, video game development in the West Midlands, and Television and Film in South-East Wales. The quiet market town of Leamington Spa in Warwickshire is the unlikely home of more than 10% of the UK games industry, hosting studios responsible for world renowned titles including the Forza Horizon series and the official Formula One games, and boasting studios from industry heavyweights such as Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and SEGA.

Cardiff and South Wales is the origin of BBC’s His Dark Materials, Netflix’s Sex Education and Havoc, to name a few high-profile examples. However, despite their ongoing economic growth and encouraging post-pandemic recovery, the screen sector across the UK is suffering from an ongoing issue with skills gaps and shortages. This is not a new problem, multiple reports have highlighted this issue, most recently the BFI’s 2022 Skills Review.

The BFI did not shy away from highlighting the insufficient support from the big players (Netflix, Amazon, Disney) in terms of funding and supporting development in its 2022 Skills Review. The BFI suggests over £100m of funding is needed per year to support workforce development for the TV and Film sector alone, in order to keep up with the unprecedented demand the post-Covid boom in production has placed on the industry.

The next stage of our research is to gain a more granular picture of the skills ecosystems of the West Midlands and South-East Wales, and to consider the role devolution plays in providing an institutional framework that is better placed to connect the elements of education, industry and government.

We suggest a better understanding of the interaction between industry, government and education at the regional level is required to inform policymakers on what is the right course of action to sustain growth and provide support that is tailored to that region’s needs. As it stands the pressure placed on universities to undertake this role without sufficient support, industry partnership and clarity of purpose is not sustainable and doesn’t benefit students, the creative sector, the regional ecosystem or the UK’s continued standing as a global leader in the creative industries.

The research is by PEC researchers Dr James Davies and Dr Matt Lyons from University of Birmingham. Read the full discussion paper: The Role of the University in Enhancing Creative Clusters

Image of University of Birmingham by Korng Sok via Unsplash.

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