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We recently surveyed Fellows within the higher education sector, asking them about what worked and what didn't when it came to the development of creative capacities in higher education institutions (HEIs). Although many felt there was lots of work still to do, overall the picture is a positive one, with lots being done already to make HEIs more creative, co-operative and innovative.

The daemons:

Those surveyed were asked to tell us the five things that they believed were barriers to creativity within higher education. The responses were varied, but several key themes came up time and again:

  • Rigid structures
  • The perceived value of creativity
  • Lack of time, funding and expertise

Structure:

The biggest barriers seemed to be structural, with the majority of the respondents stating that existing structures limited the development of creativity within their institutions. Rigidity in curriculum design was a common complaint, with many feeling that courses had no space for creativity, or that there was an inbuilt 'knowledge bias' that kept creative ideas off the table. Others felt that institutional structures were to blame and spoke about a 'silo' mentality that drew too strict a divide between subjects traditionally viewed as 'creative' and those that aren't. 

Perceived value:

A significant minority of those we surveyed felt that the perception that creativity lacks value is a key barrier to its development. Many respondents felt that there was an increasing drive towards employability as a key performance indicator for universities. There was a concern that pursing creativity over employability might hinder a university's place in national or international rankings. They also felt that subjects that are seen as traditionally creative suffered because they were unable to bring in funding or secure prestigious grants.

Time, funding and expertise:

A general lack of time, funding and expertise within teaching staff also seems to present a stumbling block to creativity. Several of those surveyed felt that the need for undergraduates to fund their studies through part-time work would undermine attempts at creative curricula, as they would lack the time to fully engage with it. Similarly, while many recognised that there was a lack of creative expertise among university staff, it was also felt that without additional funding or staff time its development would not be a priority.

The better angels:

The good news is that many universities are working to combat structural rigidity, false perceptions around the value of creativity and the lack of funding, money and expertise. Although many examples of good practice were shared with us, the three below showed that the tools to overcome existing barriers might already exist:

Wolverhampton University:

Wolverhampton is challenging the traditional pedagogical structures by making use of their graduate teaching assistants to explore new methodologies, in partnership with lecturers, to change the way courses are delivered.

University of Brighton:

In Brighton creative skills are valued and are designed into the curriculum of every subject. Programmes have been set up across the university to promote entrepreneurial activity and drive amongst their students, and support those who want to start their own business, or pursue an innovative idea.

Southampton Solent University:

Southampton Solent has the largest number of creative industries graduates, not only because they promote creativity in what they say, but because they put their money where their mouth is. They set up Solent Creative in 2011, to bridge the gap between education and work. Students in creative industries work as freelancers on real-world projects, gaining experience that supports their learning as well as earning them some money.

There is no doubt that more can still be done to promote the creative capacities of university staff and students. It is clear that much of what needs to be done surrounds the re-imagining of systems and mind-sets, which is why it is so heartening to see that HEIs are leading the charge.

Next steps...

If you want to know more about the work of the RSA and how it relates to HE, then get in touch with our Project Engagement Team who can tell you more:

Connect with Fellows- Create your online profileFind like-minded Fellows and Engage with projects in your area.

Be part of a project- Develop a new projecthelp with an existing one and propose new partners or potential funders by getting in touch.

Be inspired- Read the RSA Journal, submit an opinion piece to RSA Comment or join the discussion on our RSA blogs.

If you're not already an RSA Fellow and you support our mission of 21st century enlightenment, find out more about joining us.

Tom is a Project Engagement Manager, working to connect Fellows with the RSA’s research. Email him or follow him on Twitter at @tom_gilliford

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