A view from Maisie McCabe

Ad industry must fight to save creative education

Among the Champagne, brass bands, eulogies and Pencils at the D&AD Awards last week, there was a moment of reflection. In his president’s speech on stage in the prefab oddity that is Battersea Evolution, Mark Bonner told the story of how he went to Ealing Town Hall for an interview to get a grant to fund his post-graduate studies at the Royal College of Art.

Happily for Bonner, and his agency’s clients, the scary bureaucrat he met with that day deemed the continuation of his creative education worth investing public money in. Bonner questioned whether his life would have taken the same path today. If it had cost you £50,000 to pursue your education, would you have made the same choices?

SapientNitro’s Nigel Vaz writes on page 21 about the importance of breaking down the barriers between the arts and sciences. He says the industry needs to make sure the government recognises that adland is as much an industry for graduates of science, technology, engineering and maths as it is for students of the arts.

If it had cost you £50,000 to pursue your education, would you have made the same choices?

That may be the case, as our industry becomes increasingly technological. But I’m not too worried about the STEM subjects. Other people have already got them covered. What worries me more is the promotion of those subjects to the expense of all the others. The plans for an English Baccalaureate might have been scrapped, but government rhetoric still emphasises "academic" subjects over creative ones.

According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the 46,015 people studying for a degree in creative arts and design in 2013/14 marked a 20 per cent drop from two years earlier. The removal of government funding for foundation courses means many of them will close.  As Bonner warned: "The days when talent could be amplified regardless of  privilege are long gone."

D&AD does great work in supporting creative education, but most other initiatives are much narrower.  The Advertising Association and IPA are determinedly championing advertising’s role in the wider creative industries. And charities such as Speakers for Schools and the Ideas Foundation are battling to drive diversity and encourage children from wider backgrounds to get into advertising.  

My love of modern art, inspired by the David Hockneys and Howard Hodgkins at a local art gallery when I was a kid, affects my life today more than those long hours I spent perfecting differentiation.

Maybe those of you who are charged with lobbying for advertising’s place at the top table of business could also extend your campaign to ensure we don’t end up in a world where a creative education is sidelined completely in pursuit of profit.