Commercial enterprise and education

Below is a comment I made on the Creative Review blog in response to a post about commercial enterprise initiatives on higher education graphic design courses. For the full context, please read the original post on Creative Review first:
NUA students design beer brand identity


I am inundated with requests every year from people wanting students to get involved in a live project, stating they think it will be good for their folio. Many are just after a free piece of design, and when I point out the ethics of this in my (now) stock email reply, I rarely hear from them again. If we can run something through a module, so it counts towards the students’ degree, or if the company is prepared to offer up a competition brief, then we will look at what we can do to run such requests while ensuring that students are not being exploited.

But as agendas in HE change, and there is a pressure for institutions to become ‘income generators’ as application figures plummet, then I can see the rationale for what NUA have done here. But I’m still left with an uncomfortable feeling with such arrangements especially with increased fees situation. Questions arise such as how you give a similar level of experience to ALL students so that there is parity of opportunity in an increasingly commodified education system? It would also be interesting to know the level of tutor involvement in the NUA project, and how much of the success of the project, in design terms, was down to their expert consultancy? Was this overview an incentive for commercial companies to get involved in education in this way, and how do local design firms in Norwich feel about this loss of potential revenue? However, experience is experience, and is often a prerequisite for any graduate to get a job these days so it could be argued that the industry has created a rod for its own back should any design firm have a problem with this.

I recently ran a project with second year graphic design students to design a healthy eating guide for people who are in the unfortunate position of having to rely on food aid/food banks. Suffolk County Council got involved, and students had to pitch their ideas to them, liaise directly with the client, organise meetings and buy all the print themselves, (with SCC paying all production costs). The students ran this from start to finish and the learning experience was invaluable to them, as was the underpinning social/community aspect of the project. I deliberately kept a hands off approach to the design side of things, as this was for the students and the client to discuss, and all I did was over see the process to ensure students weren’t coming unstuck or were not at anytime out of their depth in what was an ambitious brief. At no stage in the project did I feel I was compromising the students in their development as professionals, and the transferable skills they learnt along the way advanced them in leaps and bounds. It will be interesting to see how this feeds into their final year of study and their future professional careers. Project details can be found here for anyone interested:

This is a vital debate for both design education and the design industry to be having. I look forward to reading future reports along these lines in Creative Review.
Nigel Ball
2013-06-07 12:39:17

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