Does college equip you for all times within the artistic trade?
What is the function of university? In the age of skyrocketing student debt, as well as an increasing gap between the skills graduates require to gain employment and the kinds of skills that university is teaching them, what is it that students are gaining from three years of higher education?
According to Rebecca Wright, president of D&AD and dean of academic programmes at Central Saint Martins in London, the purpose is threefold. The first is centred around “education for education’s sake”, providing an opportunity for individuals to discover themselves, develop critical thought and their understanding of agency. The second is around how the University of the Arts London (which Central Saint Martins is part of) has defined its strategy around social purpose “and foregrounded the role that universities play in the social fabric of local and global communities”. And the third, most “vital and underrepresented” part of this purpose is to “intervene in other disciplines to address the biggest challenges that we face in terms of social and climate justice, economic impact, and how we create more sustainable and equitable societies”.
While Wright is quick to point out the transferability of these skills, she admits that there will always be a gap between education and industry, but says it’s important to consider how we navigate it. “I don’t think we do enough to understand what our students’ expectations are of the world of work. We still unintentionally privilege a kind of cultural capital in students who have the confidence to go out and put themselves out there.”
She also points to industry’s role in bridging this gap, and questions how both parties can give students a strong sense of agency in showcasing their work, but also trusting their own instincts about what opportunities are right for them — “it’s not the case that all jobs are right for all graduates”.