13th July 2022
Rise of Specialist Arts Universities in the UK
By Patricia Moores

Globally, according to a 2015 report published by UNESCO and other research partners, cultural and creative industries generate US$2.25 trillion (HK$17.55 trillion) a year – exceeding the revenues of global telecom services – and employ more people globally than the car industries of Europe, Japan and the United States combined (29.5 million jobs versus 25 million).

The value of creative industries to the UK economy is particularly significant. In 2019, it was worth 115.9 billion (HK$1.14 trillion), according to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

This helps to explain why the UK has such a strong heritage in offering high quality and innovative arts-based higher education programs.

Two of the leading arts-based universities in England are Leeds Arts University and Arts University Bournemouth, whose high-profile alumni include Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Damien Hirst, Wolfgang Tillmans and Edgar Wright.

Leeds Arts and AUB stand out because their course offerings are clearly focused on arts subjects.

The array of courses they offer highlights the creative approach that underpins their appeal to both domestic and international students.

At AUB, there are specialist courses in model making, costume for performance and television, visual effects and animation alongside more traditional courses such as film production.

Leeds Arts offers courses in comic and concept art, a master’s program in world-building and creature design as well as a master’s in illustration and graphic novel.

To focus on just one of these courses, the master’s in world-building and creature design is the first of its kind in the UK. The creature-design aspect opens career opportunities in film, game and comic industries as well as work supporting scientific research such as visualizing prehistoric life or paleo reconstruction and life on other planets – known as speculative biology.

The world-building aspect invites students to create detailed cultural, historical and futuristic worlds for careers in the entertainment industry, production and research.

There is a strong demand for talented artists graduating from courses such as the world-building and creature-design programs.

The film industry in the UK is experiencing enormous growth at the moment. Figures published by the British Film Institute revealed that 5.64 billion was spent on film and high-end television production in the UK in 2021, the highest ever reported, and 1.27 billion more than in the pre-pandemic year 2019.

Top-end facilities are vital to deliver a high-class creative education – and this was a big reason for AUB alumna Zoe Law when choosing England as a study destination. “AUB has modern and unique facilities which are difficult to find in Hong Kong,” she said. “I learned how to use 3D printers, laser cutters, about sound art and many more things which I would never have had an opportunity to do if I remained in Hong Kong.”

Leeds Arts boasts workshops in 3D wood and metal, 3D casting, ceramics and glass as well as digital print. It also offers galleries, a Mac suite and photography studios.

AUB alumni can be found working in Hong Kong at the prestigious Art Central.

Said Law, who graduated with a bachelor’s in fine art: “AUB developed my passion for the arts. From day one, I was immersed in art culture. The campus, the professors and my fellow students were incredibly supportive and held zero judgment in my creative ideas.”

Alongside developing specific skills that can lead to technical jobs in the creative sector, those who study at arts universities also develop broader skills that are in demand in a volatile world economy.

“Being agile, adaptable to change and able to think creatively and innovatively is a sought-after skill that employers value, no matter what the business is,” said AUB head of international Claire McIntyre.

Access to work experience also underpins study at both institutions.

Said Elli Whitefoot, assistant careers, employability and enterprise manager at Leeds Arts: “We give students the opportunity to connect with industry, build relationships and gain skills. We ensure they have a competitive advantage when they graduate. Many courses engage with industry to provide their students with the opportunity to work on assessed projects and briefs. Exclusive paid commissions and projects are open to all Leeds Arts students, regardless of discipline.”

Small class sizes, allowing easy access to the state-of-the-art facilities, also guarantee an immersive and rewarding study experience.


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