How can we improve the relationship between industry and academia?

In his latest column Patrick Burgoyne discusses his concerns around the marketisation of education, why it isn’t producing industry-ready professionals and how we can change this


Ever since I have been writing about design and advertising – some 25 years ago – there has been a common complaint about education. Graduates, we are told, do not have the skills that industry needs: they are not ‘work ready’. Complaints include their inability to set type, to respond to briefs in a timely manner, to cope with the demands of a busy studio or creative department. Professionals and business-owners ask why universities aren’t providing them with the people they need, universities respond that it is not necessarily their place to do so: that they are not there simply to churn out fodder for ‘industry’.

That gap seems as wide apart as ever. I recently spoke to a prominent graphic designer, who owns a small studio. Finding ‘industry-ready’ graduates was, he said, becoming harder. University design courses were, he claimed, becoming ever-more theoretical, drifting further away from what he needed from employees. As a result, he has set up his own small mentorship scheme aimed at bridging that gap. Other, UK-based designers tell me that they are more likely to look overseas (at least pre-Brexit) – that graduates from mainland Europe have more to offer. 

University design courses were […] becoming ever-more theoretical, drifting further away from what he needed from employees.

Meanwhile, universities argue that their responsibility to their students goes beyond simply preparing them for work in design studios. These are university degrees, with all the academic rigour that implies. Students learn far more than craft skills. They develop critical thinking, essential soft skills such as how to collaborate in teams, how to conduct research. Many of their graduates will not work as designers anyway, the industry has no room for them, after all. So the skills they learn must equip them beyond the relatively narrow concerns of design studios.