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Creative graduates more entrepreneurial and as employable as peers, new study finds

Graduates in creative subjects suffer no deficit in earnings to students of supposedly “higher value” degrees such as biology, languages or psychology, a new study by a University of Sussex Business School academic has revealed.

The study by Martha Bloom found no statistically significant discrepancy in wages for creative graduates compared to many of their peers three-and-a-half years after graduation, when controlling for a range of demographic, attainment and work-related characteristics – casting significant doubt on the suggestion creative degrees offer lower added value to students.

Students of creative degree subjects (65.7%) are more likely to be in a graduate level jobs three-and-a-half years after graduating than students who studied law (61.1%), biology (61.8%) or psychology (64.8%), the new report from the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) reveals.

The new analysis also found that a higher proportion of creative graduates report their main activity as being in employment (76.9%) six months after graduation than graduates from non-creative subjects (69.7%) as well as a slightly higher proportion three and a half years after graduation (88.8% compared to 86.8%).

And creative graduates are almost four times more likely to be engaged in entrepreneurial activity such as being self-employed, freelance or running their own business (13.6%) compared to non-creative graduates (3.7%).

Study author Martha Bloom argues the new analysis challenges the assumptions of the Augar Review that certain creative subjects fail to provide “value for money” and should receive less government subsidy, and recent indications from the Government that university bailouts could be contingent on the dropping of “low value” courses.

Ms Bloom, a research student in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex Business School, said: “Whilst studying a creative subject is, on average, associated with lower earnings when compared with all non-creative subjects, for many specific non-creative subjects, this is not the case.

“These findings should not be used to denigrate the provision of other areas of higher education or the ‘value’ of other subjects. What the report actually reveals is that the performance of a particular subject’s graduates typically reflects differences in industry structure rather than quality of provision or market need for these subjects.

“Where previous studies have highlighted differences in lifetime earnings for graduates in creative and non-creative degree subjects, what they are highlighting is differences in career pathway rather than the 'lower value' of a degree in a creative subject.

“If the recommendations of the Augar review are acted upon by the Government, then not only may creative graduates lose out by being financially disadvantaged or inhibited from studying the subjects they desire, but the creative industries will struggle to maintain the pipeline of new talent that has thus far supported its growth.”

The study also reveals that of those working in the creative economy, creative graduates are far more likely to be in specialist creative roles (54.1%) requiring the specific advanced skills developed through their university education than non-creative graduates (33.8%).

Ms Bloom said her analysis indicated a strong match between creative graduates’ subject choices and their future employment which suggests the skills they develop at university are highly relevant and applicable to their chosen careers.

She added: “Whilst creative graduates account for only 17% of the graduate population, 46% of graduates employed in the creative industries have a creative degree. This figure is even higher in certain sub-sectors. For example, 82% of graduates working in design, 78% in music, performing and visual arts and 75% in architecture have a creative degree.

“The five jobs held by the highest proportion of creative graduates are all creative occupations, and the highest proportion of workers in each creative occupation are those with a degree in a subject which aligns with that occupation.

“What these results tell us is that large numbers of creative graduates are gaining employment in jobs that appear to match their skills profile and that they are largely choosing these jobs because they are exactly the type of work they want to do. This is strong evidence that creative higher education is providing significant value to graduates in supplying them with the skills they need to gain employment in their chosen career, regardless of the association with salary.”

The Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) works to support the growth of the UK’s Creative Industries through the production of independent and authoritative evidence and policy advice.

Led by Nesta and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy, the Centre comprises of a consortium of ten universities from across the UK including the University of Sussex. The PEC works with a diverse range of industry partners including the Creative Industries Federation.

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By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Friday, 21 August 2020

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