Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some futures for art and design higher education institutions, 2020

In February I gave the keynote at the Ukadia conference of specialist art and design higher education institutions (the transcribed version will follow). In it, I summarised the drivers of change shaping teaching and research in these institutions as:

  • Technology (eg broadband, multi devices, the cloud, IOT, SaSS, MOOCs, digital as material)
  • Collective making/solution creating (eg hackweekends, lean start up, Global Service Jam, Culture Hack Scotland)
  • An expanding field (eg Artist Placement Group, design thinking, co-design, toolkits, MindLab, OpenIDEO)
  • The importance of visuality and performativity (eg interfaces to everything)
  • Institution-making/disintermediation (eg free schools, Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design
    THNK, School of Communication Arts, Makerversity).

I then described four scenarios for UK art and design institutions in 2020. Half serious, half playful they were written to highlight some of the potential implications of current developments. 

Scenario 1 Business as usual 

By 2020 undergraduate student fees were £20,000 a year. Student applications from UK and Europe had dropped by half from 2015, but numbers of Chinese, Indian and US students coming to the UK to study continued to grow. Art and design schools continued their slow drift towards being a specialist finishing school. Some responded by focusing exclusively on one of three areas – luxury and branding, European classical art, and Shakespeare. They built campuses in China and Korea. They invested in buildings – snazzy glass boxes designed for spectacular displays. They built customer service teams to cater to their demanding students. 

Morale dropped among teaching staff. Having a PhD was now a requirement even for visiting lecturers paid at hourly rates. The currency for lecturers was publishing in peer-reviewed journals, not practice. This pushed out the few interesting practitioners who were left, which was fine by them as the students they did tutorials with created projects which no longer interested them. Some art and design schools took another route, moving from offering degree programmes to short courses and CPD. But without access to workshops and studios, students did not get the in-depth, sustained training they needed. Entrepreneurial practitioners created new kinds of shared makespaces, outside of London since property there remained unaffordable except to a global elite. One result was property developers around the UK created new hybrid developments combining affordable housing, shared makespaces and small business units. Research for art and design dwindled and was available onto to institutions with good partnerships with top research universities on joint bids.

Scenario 2   Low regulation

After the incoming minister for Business Innovation and Skills, Sir Michael Gove, opened up higher education to commercial providers, the pace of change was fast. By 2020, there were 30 so-called free universities offering art and design. Some were set up by commercial providers, some resulted from partnerships between corporations and existing universities. Tate Enterprises partnered with Harvard to create a new art school offering Tate BA and Tate MFA delivered at what used to be Chelsea College of Art, whose site they bought. A new free university focussing on consumer electronics was created by a joint venture between Phillips Electronics, Lenovo and Northumbria University, delivered in London and Shanghai. Some free universities came into existence through a management buy-out. Senior managers at the Royal College of Art found private equity backers who reorganised it to focus on global industrial design and digital design. 

Scenario 3   Open/social innovation

By 2020, climate change and global inequalities were drivers of change that art and design schools could no longer marginalise. Students wanted to address these issues, communities in which schools were located needed help with developing creative responses, and staff too wanted to work on something more meaningful than brand-driven D&AD briefs. Research funds too are oriented towards finding interdisciplinary responses to social and public challenges. As a result art and design institutions benefitted from research funding when proposals were constituted as design for sustainable mobility, or the arts for dementia, or design for development. Some schools reorganised to orient all their activities in response to these challenges. The Local Government Association joined forces with Lancaster University to create a suite of degree programmes, CPD and peer-learning aimed at local government, delivered online and through workshops all over the UK. A new intellectual property regime resulted in art and design schools focussing less on protecting IP. Instead a new open source community emerged that shared knowledge for others to build on. 

Scenario 4    Ateliers of the future

Following the lead of Ravensbourne, in 2020 a group of art and design institutions decided to give up awarding degrees. Instead they set up a network of art and design schools that offered courses aimed at passionate practitioners who wanted to develop and strengthen their expertise, working closely with employers who wanted to develop future talent. These students did not see the value of a degree. However they did value was experiential, collective learning that fitted in with their other commitments, inspiring and skilled teaching, and access to studios and machine shops. The new art and design schools found that students were willing and able to pay for this. And they found practitioners willing to teach tutorials and practical studio classes one or two days a week. Critical and historical studies moved online, using MOOC-like technologies to connect leading researchers around the world with motivated students. These schools flourished outside of London which was now too expensive to live in for most people including teaching staff. Instead Salford/Huddersfield/Bradford became a new hub for art and design - the Berlin of the 2020s. 

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