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Graduate motivations and the economic returns of creative higher education inside and outside the creative industries

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Insights for policymakers

The creative industries have experienced a glorious decade punctuated by a challenging year. Over the last 10 years, the sector has grown at a rate more than twice that of the total UK economy and in 2018 contributed £111.7bn, accounting for 5.8 per cent of total UK GVA. Moreover, with the fourth industrial revolution in full swing, creative skills are set to be in high demand in the economy more generally with the number of creative jobs predicted to increase dramatically as AI and automation reduce the need for routine labour.      

Yet despite the fundamental importance of highly skilled creative workers to the creative industries’ ability to generate extraordinary growth, UK higher education’s provision of training in creative subjects is currently being placed under threat. The recommendations of the Augar Review – that subjects which fail to provide ‘value for money’ should receive less government subsidy – has worried practitioners, recipients and beneficiaries of creative education since its publication in 2019. This has been compounded by recent announcements from government that university bailouts could be contingent on the dropping of ‘low value’ courses which could on some measures place creative education squarely in the firing line. This is because, according to a recent report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), commissioned by the Department for Education, lifetime earnings for those who studied a creative arts and design degree are no better than for those who didn’t go to university at all, meaning that these courses could be seen as offering low value for money, both for the graduates taking these courses and for the tax payer. 

Using new research, by the PEC’s researchers at the University of Sussex, this policy briefing demonstrates the value of creative higher education by establishing a clear link between studying a creative subject at university and gaining meaningful graduate employment in creative work. This, in turn, points out the issues with current policy discourse’s reliance on salary data as an indicator of Higher Education’s value for money and suggests that disruptions to the creative talent pipeline would likely damage the sustainability of the UK’s fast growing creative industries and other sectors which increasingly rely on creative work.

Please reference this paper as:

Bloom, M. and Bakhshi, H. (2020) Policy Insight: Graduate motivations.  London: Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and University of Sussex. Available from: 

Published 31st July 2020

Photo by Retha Ferguson

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