International creative students: their significance for UK universities, regions and the creative industries

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Assessing the value of higher education has become a divisive issue, in particular, the use of graduate earnings as a measure of “value for money”. Creative arts-based subjects systematically end up towards the bottom of rankings based on this measure and in the Augar review, and questions have been raised about the level of funding for these degrees for UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). However, earnings are a misleading dimension when used alone in assessing the value of education, and the implications of disrupting creative education may have broader and potentially serious ramifications for the creative industries, which is one of the UK’s highest growth sectors.

In this discussion paper, written by PEC researchers at Newcastle University Business School who lead the PEC’s work in international competitiveness, we take the perspective that the education sector is also an internationally competitive and exporting sector. We concentrate on the overlooked issue of the international attractiveness of creative degrees and investigate the enrolment of international students in different creative disciplines and their distribution across the UK regions. 

There are several motivations for looking specifically at creative degrees beyond the issue related to their funding. Skill shortages in the creative industries are a risk factor for an exponentially growing sector of the economy. Creative graduates, together with a diverse and cosmopolitan culture, are also linked to higher local growth. Looking at international creative students can therefore have important implications for the UK’s Industrial Strategy and the “levelling-up” agenda pursued by the present UK Government.

The findings presented in this discussion paper represent a starting point for further research. Whilst most commentators agree that international students partly subsidise local students, more in-depth understanding is needed about their importance for the creative subjects offered by UK HEIs.  Even small changes in international recruitment could make the creative offer by specific HEIs more financially sustainable and thereby affect the upskilling opportunities for local workers.



Published 21st August 2020 

Photo by Jens Tekkeveettil

Jens Thekkeveettil D Bwv Uq Bo Ou8 Unsplash