Following up from Graduate Fashion Week I wanted to look at how much it costs to study fashion, who can afford these degrees and who can’t. In our desire to profile new and budding designers we often find that they’ve just graduated from university, therefore the changes in higher education will affect who and what we will see in the future of fashion design. Ever since the increase in tuition fees to £9,000 since 2012 (making it one of the most expensive in Europe) higher education and its cost has hit the public consciousness. The violent student riots in 2010 and the student occupations throughout the UK in 2015 show that the cost of higher education deeply affects many students.
In addition to the increased tuition fees, which at one point politicians were planning to increase to £12,000, the government is planning to phase out grants worth up to £3,387 for the poorest students whose household incomes are below £25,000. The scrapping of grants is seen as “better than reducing the number of university places” according to Nick Hillman, a former Conservative adviser for the Higher Education Policy Institute. Nonetheless this would be a huge deterrent for students from poorer households which would result in only the richest students being able to afford to go to university. Education, a basic human right, only afforded to the privileged few. This plan of action, as some experts say, is a short term benefit (estimated savings of £2bn over 3 years) but in the long term we may see a decrease in the number of university students as more and more students won’t be able to afford to go university. Resulting in perhaps universities not filling up the lecture theatres.
For fashion students London is seen as the place to be, with London Fashion Week, Graduate Fashion Week, museums and some of the top fashion universities such as Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion being often cited examples. However in addition to the scrapping on grants the housing crisis in London is another deterrent for students. Already students who study in London do receive some extra money (an extra £2,200 a year) to cover the skyrocketing rents but again this isn’t enough; therefore the students who live outside of London and demonstrate exceptional ability to study Fashion Design in these top universities won’t be able to. Already across the country students spend 95% of their maintenance loan on accommodation since the price of student accommodation has doubled over the past decade and is still set in increase, e.g. University College London student accommodation has increased 5% each year.
With fashion being one of the U.K.'s greatest cultural exports and contributing an estimated £37 billion a year, one is left to wonder, where is the political discussion?
With that 5% left over from a student’s maintenance loan which they are expected to live off, an art student is also expected to pay for their own materials that on average cost £300 a year. Speaking to students I often find it is the quality of their materials that improves their grade, better fabric better fashion so to speak. Obviously this is not always the case, up cycling has been used to create stunning garments, however the less money you have to spend on materials the more at a disadvantage you are.
Unfortunately these hinderances are working for between 2003 - 2013 there has been a 25% decrease in the number of students taking up craft related subjects at GCSE level in preference for subjects which they deem will more easily provide them with a job. We will see a greater lack of diversity in the fashion industry for mainly white middle/upper class students whose parents can afford the degree will be able to study fashion. We are seeing this especially within the creative industries. In the “Warwick Commission” (March 2015) by Vikki Heywood we see that there is “concerning lack of diversity” (Heywood) with BAME (black, asian, minority, ethnic) creatives making up 6% of people who practice design. This is shocking considering 14.1% of the population fits into this demographic and 40% in London. For it shows that “access to the opportunity for creative self-expression is currently socially stratified and restricted for many women, ethnic minorities and disabled people”.
In conclusion what we will see, as I believe, is a lack of diversity and creativity in designs from people that only entered a degree because they could afford it and only want to enter the industry because of the money and the glamour that society has prescribed to the fashion industry. For, as Grayson Perry stated “rich people on the whole don’t create culture” resulting in what he termed as “cultural deserts”.
University you can teach technique but you can’t teach creativity.
Written by George Toon, contributor for Erebus.