The stand-out headline in our study is that the number of higher education craft courses has declined alarmingly - by 50% between 2007/08 and 2015/16.
The number of courses has declined in almost every year since 2007/08, with the greatest decline between 2009/10 and 2010/11. Textiles, unlike other disciplines, has shown a slight increase since 2012/13, but course numbers are still far lower than in earlier years. Furniture courses have declined by over 80% in the period of our study.
At first degree level, student numbers in most disciplines have also gone down, with participation in some courses, such as metal crafts and silversmithing, vanishing in recent years. (In the context of this decline, it’s heartening to read our case study of Hereford College of Art’s Artist Blacksmithing BA (Hons), an example of a flagship course run by an FE college.) Overall, the number of undergraduate HE students has gone down slightly (4%) between 2007/08 and 2015/16, falling 16% following a peak in 2011/12.
However, it’s important to note that student numbers in jewellery have more than doubled (to 530) and in textiles are up overall by 15% to 10,230, eclipsing the total number of craft HE students across all other disciplines put together.
So, looking at the decline in both courses and student numbers together, the drop in the number of courses is very worrying for the future of craft and making – but it’s reassuring to see that this is mitigated in some disciplines by an increase in the number of learners.
At the same time, the number of Foundation degrees (a two-year degree, rather than a foundation course, designed to prepare students for degree level entry) and other undergraduate qualifications (such as diplomas, HNCs etc) has declined by 67% and 70% respectively.
Now let’s have a look at what we’ve learnt about the characteristics of the craft undergraduate student population:
- The number of students under 21 has declined in recent years, following a peak in 2011/12. In contrast, the numbers of students aged between 21 and 24 has risen dramatically at first degree level. This shift in demographics suggests students are entering crafts degrees later but still while in their early 20s, rather than straight from school. At first degree level, the number of older students (over 35) has more than halved.
- Women outnumber men in crafts courses (making up around 80% of first degree students) and male participation is declining at a higher rate among first degree students, widening the gender gap.
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students make up around 19% of undergraduate crafts students, compared with 21% of all undergraduate HE students.
- Across first degree and ‘other undergraduate’ crafts learners, around 4% of crafts students reported a physical disability and 16% a learning disability. The proportion of students with a physical disability has remained fairly constant while the proportion of those reporting a learning disability has increased since 2008/09.
- The number of UK domiciled students (the country considered as home) has declined for both first degrees and other undergraduates. Overall, the proportion of non-UK students has risen from 10% in 2008/09 to 17% in 2014/15 (1,880 of 18,570). This represents a 66% rise in the number of non-UK domiciled students (alongside a decline of 11% in the number of UK-domiciled students). This could have important implications for the supply of new crafts skills as some of this talent leaves the country once qualified, following the Home Office move to abolish post-study work visas for non-EU students in 2012.
- Crafts students are concentrated in London and the South of England (around 50% of students). The North East and East of England have particularly low rates of participation.
At postgraduate level, participation in crafts subjects rose steadily from 2007/08 to 2012/13 but has fallen in recent years. The majority of postgraduate students are studying for Masters degrees (91%) with around 6% studying for Doctorates. Key features are:
- As in undergraduate courses, Masters courses are dominated by women (78%). Undergraduate students are 80% female, so rates of progression to a higher degree appear to be similar for men and women. However, PhD students are 56% female, suggesting that men are more likely than women to progress to doctoral crafts study, although the numbers of doctoral students are small (fewer than 100 in 2014/15).
- The proportion of students between the ages of 21 and 24 has risen in recent years, while the proportion of students aged over 25 has declined. This suggests that students are more likely to go straight from undergraduate to postgraduate study (or a year or two after graduation) rather than returning to study later.
- There has been a dramatic change in the make-up of crafts students at Masters level in terms of their domicile. In 2007/08, 55% of students were UK domiciled compared with just 34% in 2014/15. Again, this means that many crafts graduates are likely to leave to UK after graduation, due to visa restrictions, causing crafts talent to be lost from the UK.
- Masters students are concentrated in London and the South East (64%). This level of concentration is even greater than at undergraduate level.
- Julia Bennett, Head of Research and Policy
 Our higher education findings extend to include 2015/16, in contrast to the rest of the study for which verified data was only available up to 2014/15.
University of Brighton, BA(Hons) & MDes 3D Design and Craft - Alma Boyes, Subject Leader 3D Materials Practice
3D Design and Craft at the University of Brighton embraces a diverse approach across the spectrum of three-dimensional creative practice. The course offers students a diverse and challenging learning experience that enables them to develop an individual approach to 3D Design and Craft.
Students explore the value of made objects, products and artefacts in the world and the evolving role making performs in engaging with contexts of society, the economy and environment. The course is workshop based enabling ‘hands-on’ teaching and learning in materials and processes such as ceramics, wood, metals, polymers and composites to fully inform 3D outcomes.
The course aims to foster independent designers and makers through engaging with experimentation, risk taking and critical reflection. Professional Practice, Historical and Critical Studies and the Creative Research that drives three dimensional practice are integral to the course ethos. The course aims to promote high levels of professionalism through in depth enquiry into design, craft and social issues as well as philosophical, ethical and ideological concerns expressed through design.
Student work is fully supported by a broad staff team whose research and practice covers the spectrum of creative practice from design through craft to a more fine art approach. Teaching, learning and research on the course is based on a spirit of enquiry and the active co-production of knowledge between staff and students
Students deploy their skills across a range of industries and professions including ceramics, jewellery, furniture, product design, interiors, sustainable design, lighting, advertising, branding, packaging, media, film and television, museum and exhibition design and teaching.
There has been a resurgence of interest in craft and making has enjoyed a heightened attention in popular culture and in industrial concern. This programme develops successful graduates that lead the development of three-dimensional practice and influence creative contemporary culture.