The cost of creativity: what impact would rising university fees have on the creative industries?

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Higher education tuition fees of £1,000 per year were first introduced by the Labour Government in 1998.



In 2006, fees were raised to £3,000 per year, gradually rising with inflation until 2012 when they were increased to £9,000 per year following an independent review of the student finance system.


I went to Falmouth University back in 2007. I come from a working-class family – my parents divorced so only my Mum’s income was counted in my application – and so I received the maximum bursary amount to help me through my studies. I graduated in 2010 and left with a student debt totalling an amount just below £30,000. I’m still paying it back now.


This steady surge in university fees poses a significant challenge to aspiring students wanting to head into creative careers. The beauty of the creative industry comes from diverse thought – so naturally there’s a massive concern about the impact rising fees will have on this.


The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that students from the poorest backgrounds will accrue debts of £57,000 from a three-year degree.


Many creative college students are now facing the dilemma of either accumulating significant debt to pursue higher education, or heading out to try and pursue their career in an industry that, let’s face it, still requires graduate status to even be considered for an internship.



Barriers to access and the impact on the industry

While paying for university might seem like a reasonable investment in one’s future, rising fees present massive barriers to access, particularly for students from under-represented communities. The creative industry thrives on diversity and fresh perspectives, so the increased financial burden of university fees threatens to limit opportunities for those unable to afford them.


If access to higher education becomes a privilege reserved for the affluent, then the creative industry is at serious risk of losing out on a wealth of untapped potential and talent.



Addressing the problem

This is something Brixton Finishing School is looking to help combat. Founder and Director of Brixton Finishing School Ally Owen set up the not-for-profit organisation to help improve uptake into creative industries and the early years experience for people from under-represented communities.


Diverse thought means new perspectives, fresh ideas and better results.


I recently visited New City College, Redbridge Campus, to check in with students to see how they were getting on in their final couple of weeks before the academic year ended. The majority of the students there are from those communities Brixton Finishing School is trying to reach, and whilst many of the Year 2 students were heading off to university, they still expressed concerns about how expensive it was.


Saeem, a first year student, spoke about how being able to gain real-world experience and a qualification would be a really attractive prospect. Indyha, a second year student, also mentioned that alternative pathways that included hands-on experience, such as apprenticeships, could help offer more flexible and affordable options for aspiring creatives.


It’s essential we start seriously looking at how we can offer alternative solutions that promote inclusivity and ensure that higher education remains accessible to all, regardless of background. Scholarships, grants and other financial aid initiatives play a role in levelling the playing field, and universities and creative institutions must explore alternative pathways to education, such as online courses, apprenticeships and training programs.




The Cost of Creativity is a series of articles looking at what challenges increased education fees bring to creativity and what’s at stake if we do nothing about it.