Dezeen Magazine

Government to launch inquiry into impact of Brexit on creative industries

Design schools will "hit the wall" due to Brexit, warns The Council for Higher Education in Art & Design

The Brexit vote has led to a "brain drain" of teaching staff and a drop in student numbers at the UK's architecture and design institutes, according to a body representing creative higher education establishments, which warns that universities will be forced to shut down.

"We are already experiencing a brain drain," said Paula Graham-Gazzard, policy and external relations manager at The Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD).

"The sector will contract," she added. "Universities are expected to hit the wall. It is extremely likely that some will fold."

Speaking at a meeting about art and design education in parliament this week, Graham-Gazzard spoke of a "whammy in all directions" at colleges.

Higher-education courses are suffering from the removal of creative subjects from the new EBacc curriculum at secondary school level, tougher visa restrictions for non-EU students and the impact of the Brexit vote on the perception of the UK as a place to study.

The number of overseas students taking art and design higher-education courses in the UK is falling, Graham-Gizzard said, with numbers of Indian students falling five and 10 per cent since the UK voted to leave the European Union this summer, according to CHEAD's figures.

Graham-Gazzard said that the UK's vibrant creative education sector was a "key factor in our soft power," adding that the creative industries "not only contribute to the economy directly but indirectly by making the UK such an attractive place to live and work."

However the overseas perception of the UK as an attractive place to come to study and live has taken a big hit since the Brexit vote, she said.

"I cannot overemphasise the hit that our global reputation for cool has already taken," Graham-Gazzard said.

"Twenty eight per cent of academic staff come from outside the UK," she added. "And a substantial chunk of that is from the EU. People are already taking flight."

"The main topic of discussion at every dinner table I'm at with academics is 'where on earth are we going to go?' There are issues because of the real fears of what's going to happen."

Graham-Gazzard was speaking at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education – a group that brings together members of parliament from all parties as well as non-MPs.

At the meeting she gave a presentation titled The Future of Creative Higher Education Post-Brexit.

Consisting of evidence compiled from a variety of sources, the presentation finds that Brexit "may lead to significant impact on staff and student recruitment, competitiveness and prestige of UK creative higher education and creative industries at a time when global competition in these areas is likely to increase steeply."

CHEAD also attacked visa restrictions that make it harder for non-EU students to study in the UK, and to work in the UK after completing their courses.

"The UK now has one of the least competitive post-study work policies in the English-speaking developed world," its report states. "There has been a 60 per cent drop in the number of Indian students studying in UK since 2012."

The report adds: "Figures from June 2016 show a UK five to 10 per cent fall [in students taking up art and design higher-education courses] this year following the referendum and its campaign."

Graham-Gazzard warned that a collapse in creative courses around the country would impact local communities, whose businesses depend on the patronage of students.

"I don't think people realise to the full extent which that income from students and the tax that's paid by the universities and all other types of contributions that universities make it keeps [communities] afloat," she said.

The meeting in parliament included a talk by Dezeen founder and editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs, who spoke about the Brexit Design Manifesto. Fairs spoke about the recent dinner with culture secretary Matt Hancock, who praised the UK's architecture and design sector and agreed to work with the industry in future.

The number of students taking design qualifications at secondary school has dropped sharply in recent years and fell 10 per cent this year alone, leading to warnings that creative businesses could suffer a skills shortage.

Graham-Gazzard concluded her talk by presenting a number of recommendations for the government. "The number of international students globally is expected to grow – but so is competition," she said.

"To take advantage of  this growth our creative higher education needs to: communicate a welcoming environment for international students; explore new technologies to better target and deliver learning; map innovation funding to identify EU creative, innovation and structural funding streams that should be replaced by the UK; rejoin Erasmus+ as a fully-funded member; and develop a competitive visa system."

A British Council survey published last week found that perceptions of the UK had fallen among young people in the EU, but had risen in nations further away.

Dezeen readers can still sign the Brexit Design Manifesto and receive regular newsletters on its progress.