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The economic value of creative higher education

In recent years several studies have attempted to quantify the economic value of higher education. They tend to focus on graduate earnings, finding that outcomes differ by subject and that arts-based subjects return the lowest salaries. Yet this contrasts - and seems to be at odds with - the extraordinary growth of the creative industries and the creative economy in the UK over the past two decades.

A major new report from the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) has sought to shed more light on these trends and presents a more nuanced picture of the economic value of creative higher education.

It does so by assessing employment outcomes alongside earnings data for creative graduates in the creative industries, and uses data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency to assess a range of employment outcomes for graduates who studied ‘creative subjects’, which it defines as those subjects which map to a sector of the creative industries.

Key findings

  • creative higher education is providing graduates with the high-level creative skills necessary to work in the creative industries and in creative roles throughout the economy. This implies that creative higher education is providing good value to students in equipping them with skills they need in their chosen careers.
  • creative higher education is providing good value to the Treasury by supplying skilled employees to the creative industries, a particularly high growth sector of the economy.
  • using earnings as a metric for value is biased against creative graduates who have, in general, different motivation profiles for entering work and are also more likely to be self-employed, operate as freelancers, or run their own businesses, than non-creative graduates.

Bruce Tether, Professor of Management at Alliance Manchester Business School is the Research Director of the PEC. He says: “This report is an excellent example of the PEC developing the evidence base and informing policy on the creative industries on an independent and impartial basis. It is vital that students and policy makers make informed choices, and overall the report paints a much more positive picture of the value of creative arts higher education.”


Martha Bloom, the report’s author and a researcher affiliated to the PEC, adds: “The majority of creative graduates are working in some kind of creative role three and a half years after graduation, either working in the creative industries or working in creative jobs in the wider economy. This demonstrates that creative education is producing graduates with the requisite skills to pursue creative careers.

“We also found that though creative graduates make up only 17 per cent of the graduate population, they represent 46 per cent of graduates working in the creative industries. This figure is even higher in certain subsectors. For example, 82 per cent in architecture sectors have a creative degree. This over-representation of creative graduates in the creative industries shows how much the sector relies on the skills and knowledge taught through creative higher education.”

*You can read the full report here: For Love or Money? Graduate Motivations and the Economic Returns of Creative Higher Education Inside and Outside the Creative Industries

Blog posts give the views of the author, and are not necessarily those of Alliance Manchester Business School and The University of Manchester.

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