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Is UK design education an epic FAIL?

Discussion in 'General Business Forum:' started by mrleesimpson, Jan 7, 2009.

  1. mrleesimpson

    mrleesimpson Guest

    Over the past couple of months I've been thinking a lot about designers my age who are just now graduating from University and looking to make their way into design. I've long been of the opinion that the UK education is failing design students and not lending them any favours when it comes to helping them get jobs.

    So I wrote a quick blog post covering this:

    To read the full article checkout out my blog and let me know your thoughts.
  2. Greg

    Greg Active Member

    Great post Lee, and something I can relate to having taken a vocational design course myself. There is a distinct lack of vocational design courses around, and it was just through sheer luck that the local-ish University to me launched a new design course aimed at bridging the gap between a degree in design and the reality of working as a designer in a commercial setting. I'll be keeping an eye on the comments you get with your post, looks like you've hit on a topic of the moment too -

  3. Russell

    Russell Member

    Ah the debate about Universities is one that will never go away! I was lucky in my choice of Uni (Coventry, which I would recommend) in as far as our third year tutor made it quite clear what our expectations should be and the course was generally well geared towards practical skills for the industry. Although having said that by the third year of a degree course that's a tad too late to change direction! Think the main problem stems the fact that Universities are now run more like businesses than ever before. It's all too much about getting bums on seats or more realistically tuition fee cheques.

    They are not going to advertise specifics about how many people end up getting related jobs on creative courses as the statistics would drive away their potential students (or should I say customers). I think the course I attended now has a yearly intake of around 100 students with other large Uni's in the surrounding area churning out similar numbers. Look for junior/ graduate design positions advertised in the Midlands and you'd be lucky to find one a month.

    With the government pushing for more 16-18 year olds to stay in further education I can only see the numbers rising. Don't get me wrong if I had known a jobs to graduates ratio it still wouldn't have put me off as I knew it was what I wanted to do straight from school, but I'm sure there are a raft of debt riddled graduates who wish they had been told a bit more info earlier on.
  4. berry

    berry Active Member

    HA! Don't get me started on this one Lee!
    For 20 years I've banged the drum to local Uni's and Colleges about the course structure, attitude and employment potential for graduating student. Further Ed isn't geared up to finding employemnt only getting a degree - which doesn't guarantee any job. When I guest lecture at Uni's or Colleges the first thing i tell the numbnuts is that " in this room 2 maybe 3 people will get a paid job in design when they finish the course, you other 40 odd will be doing bar work or 'freelancing'.- which means doing any type of cheap design work while you fire off your CV".
    Further Ed is great if your into web development and the tech stuff, And I have employed 3 such graduates with such knowledge. When it comes to out and out pure design, then it's a big let down. I've always opted for going for potential designers with no academic qualification but with 'potential' to relearn and to start an 'apprenticeship training'.
    Further Ed isn't about jobs it's about numbers. I feel sorry for the 98% of student who will never break into the business. I do not count 'freelancers' with no previous experience in the business as genuine establishment successes. Rather graduates sitting in a Waiting Room. Sorry.
  5. Russell

    Russell Member

    True, in terms of web development, coding etc I think it's easier to set up a structured course that provides it's students with the knowledge needed for business life. In my opinion a lot of design courses seem to focus too much on 'the big idea' and fail miserably when it comes to typography, setting up for print and presentation/ people skills, in other words the skills that can actually be taught. You can't teach someone how to have a creative idea but you can give them the basic skills to actually be a help not a hinderance when looking for placements/ their first job.

    On the freelance issue, I get where your coming from as a lot of people use the term 'freelance designer' very loosely, but I know a fair few of my old Uni mates who went freelance straight off and have successful businesses now. Got to stick up for the freelance crew!
  6. Mosskat

    Mosskat Member

    I wouldn't sneer at freelancing. It was my bread and butter until I landed a 'job' and to be honest I missed it for that entire year and a half I was working full time. No the salary that goes with it isn't stable but the time flexibility is what I loved the most.

    Not everyone 'gets' this when I explain but then again not everyone is meant to be a freelancer.
  7. mrleesimpson

    mrleesimpson Guest

    Cheers for the feedback guys.

    Yer that was one of the main reasons I wrote the post and I think it directly relates to the fact that times are finanacial so companies need to be smart with the people they hire.

    @Berry. So are you saying that a designer (or developer for that matter) who leaves education at whatever level and goes straight into freelancing is not an 'establishment success' and only those who find full time work in a firm are?
  8. Greg

    Greg Active Member

    Some people I know, myself included, when into FE with a view to starting as a freelancer when finishing the course. Whilst I did take a job after completing University, for just udner a year, which gave me some good technical experience (print related) that I wasn't taught at Uni, I prefer the creative freedom and flexibility of working as a freelancer. I'm certainly not in a waiting room hoping to jump back into the 9-5 life of an agency.

    I do understand your view point though, as there was a number of people on the course that were unaware of the competitive nature of landing a job in the design industry, and the course didn't make it clear to them. I imagine some of them have taken on the title 'freelancer' as a CV filler until they find a position.

    I agree with you on this Russell, this summed up my course in a few lines! The big thing that was lacking from our course, despite it being vocational, was the technical know-how of things like typography and setup for print
  9. mrleesimpson

    mrleesimpson Guest

    I think if you're a freelancer, that turns out good quality work, your clients are happy and you make just as much (if not more than a designer cutting his teeth in a agency) then why should/does that make you any less a person in the industry?

    I think if you can make your way as a freelance designer straight of the bat and tick all the boxes above then I think you've achieved more that the average student. There is nothing wrong with learning your trade on the fly, making your own mistakes and tackling problems as you go.
  10. berry

    berry Active Member

    I don't sneer at bona fide freelancers. These are genuine designers who pay tax and run a business. My issue with 'Freelancers" is the vast majority who think owning software and a computer automatically makes them a designer while they wait or apply for a jobs. There are a number of good freelancers out there, but it crowded by thousands of ex graduates with nowhere to go. Early Freelancing is generally a transiant stage, not generally entered through choice but dictated through circumstance. It can create bread and butter work and for some it can be the start of a lucrative career. The Education system fails because it doesn't generate the quality or skills in students that many regional businesses need, that can be quite specific. ( developers and coders excluded because that is a skill base ) If Uni's truly understood employers needs they would produce work and thinking that would make access into employment easier and immediate, we'd all be happy as larry. But they don't. There is a big void between the two.
    Going back to Freelancers. If a graduate was going to set out on a freelance self employed path straight from Uni ( and some do) Wouldn't it then be beneficial for the course structure to include a basic business management module - all the things an independent freelancer would need to know to create a viable self employed career? It is just as important as the skill sector.
    The Education field throws up many successes and many failures. But i think the successes are down, not to the Ed system but to the individual who has developed himself to survive in the outside world. I remember having my last heated debate with the Head of the some Uni who was adamant when he said, "It's not our job to get them ready for jobs, but to get them to pass and get a degree" That a sad indicement of the uphill road many graduates have to walk.
  11. Greg

    Greg Active Member

    Spot on Berry, we had a 'professional practice module' which was supposed to help us with issues like this, but in actual fact the only beneficial element to this was being able to interview some people in the industry. I learnt all I needed to know through business forums and personal research. It would have been great if Uni had taught me about this side of a career as a freelancer, and maybe got a few talks from local freelancers with a Q&A session.
  12. Mosskat

    Mosskat Member

    Good points there.

    I have no experience with the UK training system since I got all my training in Jamaica but I can relate to them not telling you anything on how to market your own freelance career. My business course (where they show you supposedly how to market your art) was done by a man who was not an artist, had never owned a business and I suspect was a friend of the Dean.

    Needless to say, I got bugger-all from that course. -Everything- I learnt on marketing and dealing with customers, I had to learn through trial and error. It took me 2 years, many missed deadlines (because half the time I was working in confusion) and living off the skin of my teeth before I 'got' it - I'm putting this method into practise and so far I'm getting good feedback from my customers.

    I naturally now, get really bristly when people scoff at freelancers, so apologies if I jumped on you there - I understand your point of view a bit better now.
  13. mrleesimpson

    mrleesimpson Guest

    Ahh my appologies. I see whats you're saying. I think sometimes these can fall into the same category as "Well, my friends brother said he could do it for £200" type designers.

    ...or give these students a chance to study this in their own time by laying on additional studies. That way they can pick or choose.
  14. Greg

    Greg Active Member

    I think the combination of some live commercial projects with the course projects would be a great help in bridging the gap between course and career. How feasible that would be for the course to actually organize is another issue, but perhaps more units where students are encouraged to find real companies to approach and to design for?
  15. berry

    berry Active Member

    Yeh, I have a licence and can drive a car... but it doesn't make me a Racing Driver.
  16. Mosskat

    Mosskat Member

    I think the solution to this (in the long run) is a set of freelancers one day starting their own college. It would directly target folks who want to do this for a living.

    But its not easy in anyway, the curriculum would make the realities of freelancing (should I eat or pay the water bill?) come to the fore. Persons would be encouraged to have their own 'live' customers and one course would actually revolve around how best to deal with these live projects coming in.

    Hmm... *contemplates it some more*
  17. retrowilly

    retrowilly Junior Member

    great discussion going on here, I think design courses do need to shape up but some already are getting a grip. I graduated last year off my course and got a job straight away, but Berry was correct in that I was one of a few...the rest are still job hunting.

    While on the course many of the students would complain that the tutors weren't doing enough to help them, not giving them enough guidance or that the module content wasn't what they were interested in. Well, they were the bums. The people who were expecting someone else to do the work for them. To succeed on a degree you need to put 99% of the leg work in yourself. For me the tutors did help when they could, but the majority of the time they just didn't have the time and i don't blame them for that - they're busy people.

    As for the course content, in the first 18 months it was rather hit and miss because the course was new...we were very much the guinea pigs! But towards the end they began to gain a bit of direction, offering modules which were focused on the business side of the industry. We did work with local companies to a mock brief (which could possibly translated into real work) and it was very successful. It was a whole process of receiving a brief, developing a proposal and delivering with a presentation - overall invaluable experience.

    So some courses are going in the right direction and adapting to the needs of the industry, but more needs to be done (harsher critical feedback for one!). However the main responsibility remains with the individual student. Put the work and effort in and you get rewarded, I've seen that first hand.
  18. berry

    berry Active Member

    True. I asked students 'What makes you different from the other 30 odd people on your same course?"

    If you can have a valid answer that then your on your way.

    Don't expect. Sieze.
  19. Greg

    Greg Active Member

    Hi Will,

    I had similar experiences with my course, it tended to be the older students on the course that could see the bigger picture. The younger students who had come into the course straight from a HND/A-Levels expected the tutors to be providing all they should need, where as the older students knew it was just a platform, and were willing to put in the extra work behind the scenes.

    Your course sounds like it was successful for you, and I like the sound of the business modules and live projects you got a chance to work on. Perhaps some of the HE institutions are seeing the gap between course and career/job and are taking action to bridge that? I guess it's a very long process to start introducing new courses and curriculum, with all the paperwork and requirements to fulfill.

  20. Mosskat

    Mosskat Member

    No offence retrowilly, but students sometimes complain and with good reason. If I wanted to do 99% of the footwork myself I'd have saved the money I would have spent on college and tried to make it on my own. I'd have eaten better at least. Yes, you are expected to pull your weight when it comes to assignments but the teachers are supposed to guide you.

    And honestly, busy people? It's their -job-. They wouldn't be there if it wasn't for the students. So many teachers get this arrogant approach as if they're doing someone a favour. If more students realised this and -demanded- the information they should be getting, we'd have a lot less confused graduates at the end of their degree.

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