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

In recent years, several studies have attempted to quantify the economic value of higher education. They tend to focus on graduate earnings, finding that outcomes differ by subject, and that, almost exclusively, arts-based subjects return the lowest salaries. However, this seems to be at odds with the extraordinary growth of the creative industries and the creative economy over the last 10 years and the skills gaps in the creative workforce. 

This report, by the PEC's researchers at the University of Sussex, presents a more nuanced picture of the economic value of creative higher education. We have done this by assessing employment outcomes alongside earnings data for creative graduates specifically in the creative industries, and by incorporating graduates’ motivations to enter work into this analysis.

The key findings of the report are:

  • Creative higher education is providing graduates with the high-level creative skills necessary to work in the creative industries and in creative roles across the economy. This implies that creative higher education is providing good value to students in equipping them with the tools they need to enter their chosen careers. 
  • Creative higher education is providing good value to the Treasury by supplying skilled employees to the creative industries, a particularly high-growth sector of the economy, and by supporting creativity in other sectors. 
  • Using earnings as a metric for value disadvantages creative graduates who have very different motivation profiles for entering work and are also more likely to be self-employed, operate as freelancers or run their own businesses than non-creative graduates. 

Taken together, these findings demonstrate that creative higher education is providing creative graduates with the high-level skills required to work in their chosen careers, but that these skills are not being remunerated at the same level as non-creative graduates who have different motivations for entering work and who work in different forms of employment. Although creative skills are in demand, creative graduates are not using pay as the primary basis for their career choices.

Read the policy briefing which highlights issues with the current 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 rely on creative work.



Published 21st August 2020 

Photo by Retha Ferguson

This research report is published by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC). All PEC research reports have been peer reviewed prior to publication. In keeping with normal academic practice, responsibility for the views expressed in this research, and the interpretation of any evidence presented, lies with the authors. These views and interpretations do not necessarily represent those of the PEC or its partner organisations.

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