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The UK’s #1 skill should be creativity

Emma Hunt of Arts University Bournemouth calls on the government to focus on creativity.
This article is more than 5 years old

Emma Hunt is Deputy Vice Chancellor at Arts University Bournemouth.

The call for evidence for the review of post-18 education and funding is now closed.

It’s important not to lose sight of one of the review’s key themes: “delivering the skills the country needs with outcomes that deliver the industrial strategy ambitions by contributing to a strong economy”.

I would argue that the number one skill this country needs is creativity.

Creativity generates new ideas and spurs innovation, which in turn can create new jobs, improve efficiency, and drive growth. Creativity embraces critical thinking, making new things, and synthesising what’s already there – to see the world differently as a result, so it can be explored and understood. Creativity is about pushing ideas to the limit in the belief that something good and new will emerge.


So, why then is the education ecosystem that would provide this core skill being systematically broken? Creative subjects in the state school system are under threat, putting the crucial pipeline to further and higher education, social mobility, and the growing creative industries sector at risk.

In the current climate maybe we should turn to history to inform some of our political decision-making. The rise of the national design schools in the mid-19th century was because of the perceived economic necessity for a competitive advantage against the global competition. Isn’t that the same purpose of our current industrial strategy? Was the rise and support for the artisan in the Victorian era the same as the rise of the creative classes today?

The government press release for the Creative Industries Sector Deal states that the investment of £150 million will make “Britain the best place in the world for the creative industries to thrive.” The creative industries are a key feature of the industrial strategy and closely linked to the themes of Skills, Place, and Productivity. Headlines that state the creative and cultural industries are worth £92 billion and employ two million people are impressive, especially given the opportunity to increase these figures further.

Connecting the dots

This is where the key aim of the funding review needs to ensure a truly joined-up system, not only of funding, but also in creating a value proposition for creative skills development and education. Consistent messages are needed from all government departments about the value of a creative education, one that starts in the early years and continues into employment and beyond.

Government policy is demanding a greater scrutiny on the role that universities play in helping students find and gain meaningful employment. Metrics are being used to assess the success of an institution’s ability to deliver employment outcomes, but these assessments aren’t keeping up with the rapidly evolving employment landscape. Various studies on the key skills needed for the future show that creativity, digital, and “soft” skills consistently feature as the most important. These are skills which need to be nurtured over a lifetime.

Equally, the rise of automation does not have a negative impact on creative occupations. The creative economy, like the economy overall, is moving towards a more freelance and self-employed workforce, with the need to be personally creative in order to enable sustainable careers only becoming more vital.

Focus on creativity

If the review is serious about the skills the country needs then a focus on creativity is essential. Skills developed in art, design, the performing arts, and humanities courses should be given the same value as those found in other disciplines – with creativity the boundary spanning concept for all subjects and disciplines.

Serious unintended consequences may result in the failure to recognise the value of the arts and humanities, and their promotion of creativity as the core skill the country needs. This goes beyond just purely monetary returns, as this number one skill will also lead to a more engaged, joyful and sustainable society.


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