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Augar and the Industrial Strategy: 10 key points for the incoming Prime Minister about the creative arts and creative industries

  • 20 June 2019
  • By John Last

A guest blog kindly contributed by Professor John Last, Vice-Chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts

A creative industry “at the heart of the nation’s competitive advantage”
NUA Fashion student Jack Fenn’s collection at Graduate Fashion Week in London CREDIT Rebecca Lee

The creative industries are creating the jobs of the future – where emphasis on human creativity and ingenuity are core.

Not my words, but one of the keynotes of the UK’s Industrial Strategy – a central reference point for the Augar Report and its recommendations on post-18 education.

According to Augar, there has been a “misalignment at the margin between England’s otherwise outstanding system of higher education and the country’s economic requirements” resulting in an “oversupply” of graduates in fields like the creative arts.

Augar counsels ministers to encourage universities to “bear down on low value degrees and to incentivise them to increase the provision of courses better aligned with the economy’s needs”.

Of course, by “low value”, Augar goes by the current but flawed definition of early career graduate salaries falling below the point of being able to pay back student loans and the apparent consequences for the national finances.

But if the Industrial Strategy is a compass point for Augar, has the panel’s reading of it taken them in the wrong direction?

Keynotes from the Industrial Strategy

The starting point for the Industrial Strategy’s Sector Deal for the Creative Industries, published by the Government in March 2018, was the observation:

“The creative industries – including film, TV, music, fashion and design, arts, architecture, publishing, advertising, video games and crafts – are an undoubted strength of our economy; indeed, they are at the heart of the nation’s competitive advantage.”

These are industries that contribute more than £100bn a year to the UK economy and account for one in every 11 jobs. But more than this, the creative industries are of long-term strategic value, according to the Industrial Strategy:

“The immediate opportunity is in growing global demand for British creative content – not just culture and entertainment, but services like design and advertising that power wider industry. The sector has a critical role to play as the UK exits the European Union and we build a global Britain.”

Looking in more depth, the Industrial Strategy makes a number of observations and recommendations worth reflecting on in the context of Augar:

  1. The creative sector is “proving resilient to the structural challenges in the workforce caused by automation”.
  2. “Employment has increased in the sector by a quarter since 2011 and three times faster than the economy as a whole”.
  3. The digital and creative industries are expected to “need 1.2 million new workers between 2012 and 2022”.
  4. “Future creative roles are likely need a breadth of skills including advanced numeracy, coding, physical and digital design and drawing skills and creative storytelling and problem solving.”
  5. The “combination of STEM and arts-based subjects will provide this balance of capabilities”.
  6. There is a need to “strengthen understanding amongst parents, teachers and pupils of the kinds of careers available in the creative industries”.
  7. The sector has high rates of “freelancing, short-term contracts and project working” – with obvious implications for salaries, particularly at the outset of a creative career.
  8. “The creative industries are highly innovative, they are characterised by an abundance of SMEs spread across sectors.”
  9. Shortages already exist for roles like animators, creative developers, graphic designers, producers, directors, and artists working across visual effects, games, television and film production.
  10.  There are 47 regional high concentration/high growth potential creative clusters around the country, but they need further support to grow as there is an “unequal distribution of opportunities, skills, finance and knowledge; almost half of creative industries jobs (47%) remain concentrated in the capital and the South East.”

The strategy makes a range of detailed recommendations around access to funding and measures to support diversity of talent in industries where barriers to entry are finally being knocked down.

Look around creative specialist arts universities and you will see the creativity and skills being nurtured of tomorrow’s animators, graphic designers, film and television production teams.

Alongside them are tomorrow’s Oscar and BAFTA winning performers, and fashion designers who will command attention on catwalks from London to New York, Milan and Paris.

They will represent the exercise of Britain’s “soft power” overseas, according to the strategy.

The challenge for the incoming PM … and creative educators

How will the incoming Prime Minister, whoever that will be, weigh the Augar recommendations and their potential impact against the keynotes of the Industrial Strategy?

How will they reconcile Augar’s verdict of oversupply and low-value courses – and the implication that funding for creative arts courses could be reduced – to the needs of the creative industries and their potential to provide “jobs of the future” albeit in portfolios of projects and freelance work?

The lessons for creative arts educators is that we need to talk more – to shout louder – about the nation’s strategic need for animators, producers, designers, and creative developers: the occupational pathways that creative study open. We need to draw a clearer line for the public and politicians between what we teach and what the creative arts represent and the 21st century careers they can lead to.

Agreeing with Augar  

Before raising its concerns about oversupply and low salaries, the Augar Report notes that “a significant number of graduates in the creative arts make a strong contribution to the economy through work in the dynamic creative industries sector and to society through careers in the arts and design”.

On this point, we can agree.

But we are not innately more creative than other nations.

Britain’ global reputation has been hard won through a creative education system from primary to higher education that nurtures talent.

Britain cannot afford for that pipeline of talent to be broken.

Don’t take my word for it; re-read the Industrial Strategy …


  1. albert wright says:

    A well argued case for greater talent development in the creative arts sector but is a University the right place for this to happen?

    “We need to draw a clearer line for the public and politicians between what we teach and what the creative arts represent and the 21st century careers they can lead to.”

    Is the talent nurtured better in FE colleges?

  2. Carola Boehm says:

    A late reply, but here it is. Arts in our universities is essential. The fact that the UK is a leading player for the creative sector demonstrates that arts in our universities push creative practices forward. Universities are the best places to do this, as they they embed research and innovation led development into the learning environment. e.g. they provide the environment in which pushing forward modern, unique, innovative and experimental practices is feasible. Making these innovations within our creative practices explicit in the form of documentation or public output, for others to adopt, is part of the research and knowledge exchange remit of our HE sector. Arts in our universities is thus one of the major contributory factors for our creative sector to be florishing in the way it does, and thus is vitally important.

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