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Creative degrees; not a want or a need.

The Fuse delves into higher education and investigates if a degree is really needed in a creative industry

Creative industries are booming; the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) reported that employment in the UK creative industries are growing at 4 times the rate of the UK work force as a whole. It’s believed that degrees make you more employable, in fact it’s their sole purpose, with the Department for Education reporting that graduates have higher average salaries than non-graduates and a much lower unemployment rate. With promises of success and careers, many of us embark on the journey of university and choose the traditional route of higher education. But in industries that couldn’t be further from traditional, just how suited is such a route? Just how important is a creative degree?

A degree holds prized place on a CV, but is it really the star of the show? In the current creative climate there appears a shift towards an importance of experience instead. Many believe that in this day experience is perhaps more valuable than a degree. Hannah Rafter, founder of fashion career publication The Intern 247, says “companies, brands and agencies are looking for people who have had work experience in a company that is similar to them or previous roles that are similar to what they are applying for. Having internships/ work experience on your CV is now the norm, graduates and anyone applying for roles are expected to be doing more than just studying.”

At times it even feels to some that university is just a block for their dreams of being in the industry. Hannah says “university is expensive and at times it feels like it’s preventing you from going out there and working.”

Olivia Hammond, an ex integrated masters fashion management student at London College of Fashion, agrees. Olivia decided to finish her studies after a year, feeling she wasn’t gaining enough. She explains “I decided to leave university after a year because I felt like I was gaining more through the work I was doing alongside my studies. I was working as a fashion assistant for a freelance stylist and id also done some work for some magazines. (…) I felt like if I spent the next 3 years working as a fashion assistant I would gain just as much experience as I would whilst studying “

Olivia now works as a fashion assistant in Manchester and feels she is now “learning more from being in the industry and learning from co-workers.” Although, her switch from studies to employment was successful, Olivia had experience already on her side. And so, for those wanting to go straight into a creative industry just how realistic is this?

Unless you’re blessed with a safety net of wealth, for many unpaid placements and internships offered instead of degrees are simply not feasible. Hannah agrees “going straight into work can sometimes be tricky due to not having any connections or understanding behind the industry you are trying to work in.”. Is joining the creative industry without a degree and a student loan simply a rich man’s game? Is it another strain of elitism?

A degree in that sense is a double-edged sword. Although arguably not the most effective way to get your foot in the door, perhaps it’s a door stop itself, buying you time to do unpaid work in the form of placement terms and month-long breaks. Hannah says “if you gain work experience which attending university then I think the two compliment each other.”

Delving further into degrees, what exactly do you gain from this route? Is it the actual gritty content that you learn the most from or the habits and skills you gain along the way? “My writing skills, presentations and report writing have definitely helped me with what I do now. Also communicating, working with others and networking are all super important skills that are taught at uni.” Says Hannah. At university, maybe what you take away isn’t always as black and white as modules and units but instead the person it makes you, the future employee it shapes you into.

“I think a lot of what I gained from university was independence, it gave me the confidence to be like yeah I can go out and do this on my own and it felt like a step towards pursuing a career.” Agrees Olivia.

Yet the exclusivity of a gained skill set to university is questionable. Can this not be taught in industry? Is an adaptability to deadlines and briefs really worth 9+ k a year?

A degree is undeniably still a gatekeeper to certain careers. A classic requirement on many Fashion Workie and Arts Jobs advertisements. Olivia admits it worries her “if in 5- or 10-year’s time I’m trying to go for more managerial positions and I don’t have the fashion management degree behind me that a lot of the time are asked for in managerial positions. I think right now because I have experience I’ve been able to find a good entry level job and I know for this level and the next level up a degree won’t be necessary but it does worry me a bit for when it does come to the point where I want to go for those managerial positions.”

Although maybe not the definite answer you were searching for, it’s difficult to rule a degree as needed or not in a creative industry. Perhaps a holistic approach is needed- personal value for money, existing contacts and opportunities and previous experience all play a part in a degree’s place in your future. Entering a creative industry degree-less may be scary but Olivia reassures “since I quit university, I’ve got myself a job, I’ve moved to a new city, I’ve got my own flat, and things have just worked out really well.”

Creative degrees:not a want or need

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