Nigel Carrington, Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts London, says foundation courses are still vital to quality arts degrees.
The creative sector provides 1.5m jobs in the UK.
Employment in the sector has grown at double the rate of the economy as a whole.
Creative Britain is not just a driver of growth but vital to rebalance the books - the creative industries accounted for 10.6% of the UK’s exports of services.
Those figures come not from the sector itself but of DCMS. So why is it treated in such a cavalier way by ministers?
Recent attempts by Michael Gove to create a so-called ‘EBacc’ ended last week with his admission that such a radical shake-up of examinations was “a bridge too far”.
Nigel Carrington, Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts London, was delighted by the change in policy.
He tells Central Lobby that Mr Gove “has clearly thought about the importance of arts and creativity”.
“The worry that I have is that although the government has backed off a radical solution, it is still ambiguous and unable to come up with a single policy,” he says.
The arts and creative sectors will be pleased with Mr Gove’s change of heart, because arts subjects were not included in the English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) that were due to replace GCSEs.
“After the financial sector, which has suffered a bit in the last four or five years, the creative sector is the second biggest sector of the economy,” Mr Carrington explains.
“For us the frustration is that the way government rhetoric has worked in the last couple of years, you would imagine that people just became artists without any education, and the only thing that matters is putting students into maths and science subjects.
“In fact there are very, very few successful creative people who have not had some element of creative education.
“There are also an extraordinarily high proportion of graduates in the creative sector - it is over 70%.
“That is almost twice as many people working in the creative sector who have a degree as across the economy as a whole.”
He adds: “The idea that the creative sector will continue to boom if we stop encouraging the teaching of art design and communication in schools is just folly.”
Mr Carrington is still concerned about what he calls the “rhetoric and theology of school education” promoted by Mr Gove.
“It would be much better if we could just have one set of rules that everybody understands and that value a range of subjects beyond those five facilitating subjects,” he says.
“There was a separate report on secondary school accountability that indicates that the EBacc will be retained as an additional measure for schools, but won’t be the main measure.
“If we have two separate measures, one of which ranks our subjects and the other doesn’t, then there is a risk that the second measure will be something with which the schools will have to comply.
“If there are two sets of league tables then schools will want to do well in both.”
Nigel Carrington’s background is not what you would expect in the head of an arts institution.
He was previously an international lawyer with Baker & McKenzie and is a former Managing Director of the McLaren Group – he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts Londonin 2008.
He has been back to school himself recently, completing a graduate diploma in the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
“The people I worked with in the law and in automotive technologies were creative people,” he explains.
“They were all creative, but in very different ways.
“Sometimes government policy seems to suggest that successful people have to have these very strong core subjects behind them.
“Of course nobody would argue with the thesis that everybody should have a good level of maths and English.
“But you can have fantastically creative people who are not as strong in some of those core subjects but have imaginations that far outstrip those that I was used to working with.
“One of things that has been most exciting for me about working here is that I deal with some extraordinarily clever people who have probably more to give to society than a lot of people I worked with in my previous lives.”
UAL/University of the Arts Londonis relatively new institution. It brought together six London institutions offering art, design and communication teaching.
Mr Carrington says its creation was “partly to protect art schools, because small institutions without any strength of voice and without a strong asset base find it very hard to survive in this climate”.
“What we have been able to do as a single university with 18,000 students and a much stronger balance sheet has proven the value of bringing the colleges together.
“It was about creating more dialogue between creative subjects.
“It has provided us with a much richer range of subjects that feed off each other and bounce off each other in different ways, particularly at a postgraduate level.
“We now have more than 2,500 postgraduate students across the university – a strong postgraduate brand that would have been very difficult as six individual colleges.”
Foundation courses are one of the most important routes into art and creative courses.
Mr Carrington said when he began as VC more than four years ago he considered discontinuing foundation courses.
“We make a very significant loss on every foundation student we teach,” he says.
“We looked very hard at the value of it to our undergraduate provision and to the quality of the students who eventually emerge from higher education.
“We concluded we would be reducing that if we did not continue to give students that foundation year.”
Many other institutions have given up on teaching foundation.
“Those courses are a bridge between schools education and undergraduate study of arts and design,” he explains.
“There is a disjunction between schools policy and university policy and very often the political rhetoric is about universities ‘fixing’ a lack of provision in schools.
“One thing that would be absolutely fundamental would be to join that up and to recognise that there is a pipeline of students that have to be given opportunities across a rich range of subjects at schools if we are going to support higher education in those subjects.
“They need to look again at how we protect foundation.
“The funding of foundation is through further education, not higher education. It has been really precarious over the past two or three years.
“We are the biggest provider in the country of foundation courses, and we now validate more than half of the foundation diplomas in the country.
“We would love to get into a joined up dialogue about that part of the educational chain.
“There is ample evidence from surveys that the attainment of students at undergraduate level is significantly higher if they have done a foundation year.
“We need to have a dialogue about the importance of different university subjects that appears to devalue anything that is not a traditional core subject.
“We have come a long way in recognising creative subjects, not just in terms of driving the economy but bringing back into education students who had a very disadvantaged time at school, whose creative spark is easier to spot that a mathematical spark in a student who hasn’t had a proper maths education.”
As the political parties turn their thoughts to 2015, they may be minded to turn their creative minds to the importance of foundation courses as a route into art and design for the next generation.