How to design a creative higher education system that supports economic needs

10 September 2021

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Lesley Giles

Lesley Giles

Director of Work Advance

Lesley Giles is Director of Work Advance, where sh...

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As the UK emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government is faced with important policy decisions about where and how to direct future interventions and funding. One area where this has particularly sparked policy debates is around the future of higher education (HE) as a driver of innovation, skills and economic growth. This paper aims to contribute to these policy debates about how higher education needs to evolve in a modern world.

Public subsidies, which have driven expansionary higher education targets of the past, are no longer being wholeheartedly supported by a Government managing significant national debt. Indeed, a greater emphasis is being placed on value for money alongside quality.

Assessing ‘Strategic Importance’ in higher education

As the Government pushes for an increasingly differentiated higher education investment plan, the Department for Education (DfE) has identified subjects of “Strategic Importance,” where it is considering prioritising funding and policy interventions in higher education’s future. This includes STEM and healthcare subjects. The absence of a transparent assessment framework, which would explain how ‘Strategic Importance’ has been assigned to different subjects, has caused unease. The lack of an assessment framework creates confusion and raises concerns about fairness in the decision making process.  This paper offers insights for objectively assessing ‘Strategic Importance’.

It seems that a system of prioritisation, to provide the basis to target funding cuts or identify areas to drive future improvements in higher education courses, is attracting increasing support within the DfE. For instance, a range of options are being considered to control “low value” courses and debt. For example, differential tuition-fees, a cap on student numbers, or minimum entry qualifications, to name a few.  As further policy developments are announced, opening-up opportunities for strategically important subjects, while limiting the possibilities for others considered of lower value, this can only heighten concerns. 

Designing a creative higher education system that supports economic needs

To date, although the Creative Industries are a priority economic sector, according to the Plan for Growth, many creative higher education courses have been deprioritised. This threatens the future talent pipeline. 

The aim of this paper is to constructively shape the higher education assessment process the Government decided to use. This will be important in shaping future higher education policy decisions and creating the kind of creative higher education the Creative Industries would like, and needs to see, in the years ahead.

Please reference this paper as:

Giles, L, (2021) How to design a creative higher education system that supports economic needs. . Multiple: Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and Work Advance. Available from: