New Degrees Co-Created with Industry to Effect Social Change

Article, Volume 4 Issue 1 2023

Miriam Sorrentino

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ISSN 2752-3861



New degrees can be co-created with industry to effect social change. The newly validated BA (Hons) in Creative Advertising and Art Direction at the University of Greenwich has been co-designed with industry partner M&C Saatchi following initial consultancy work by Miriam Sorrentino. It has developed from the learnings from The Carbon Academy, an on-going joint project with M&C Saatchi and the University of Greenwich. Both The Carbon Academy and the Creative Advertising and Art Direction degree seek to address a significant issue in advertising creative departments, and creative industries more generally; people who identify as female or non-binary account for relatively small numbers. This is compounded by the generally poor representation of people in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and disability.

This paper examines how we can engage with industry to consider representation, the student journey and student interests, the development of cultural and social capital, and co-design processes for better degree design. While this paper looks specifically at our approach in Creative Advertising and Art Direction, any school or department with a major discipline can similarly work with industry to create new degrees.



Currently a significant issue in advertising creative departments is the lack of diversity. However, there are clear economic and societal advantages to improving the situation. As noted by the 2016 Great British Diversity Experiment, creative departments benefit from increasing diversity in both creative outputs and elimination of “group think.” The McKinsey & Company Report shows likely increases in profitability given that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform the norm and ethnically-diverse companies 35% more likely (Woetzel et al., 2015). The lack of staff identifying as female or non-binary at junior levels is already a problem as identified in year-on-year industry reports (IPA, 2019, 2020, 2021). This is compounded by even poorer representation at more senior levels where there are few examples of senior women leading a team of creative professionals (IPA, 2019, 2020, 2021).

While there are different types of diversity acknowledged in the workplace that form the basis of protected characteristics in legislation and guidelines – cultural, racial, religious, age, sex/gender, sexual orientation and disability – there are additional forms of diversity prized in the creative industries, and advertising in particular. Chief among these are risk-taking and lateral thinking abilities and traits as a challenge to “group think”. The creative industries prize a level of flexibility and pivot in their recruits. McKinsey and Company’s latest global study surveyed 18,000 people in 15 countries on the skills and attitudes (termed DELTAs) required by business. “Courage and Risk-taking,” “Adaptability,” and “Coping with Uncertainty” were all highlighted (Dondi et al., 2021). These are skills developed on creative degrees.

From a global perspective the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and its Programme for International Student Assessment, alongside the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) vocational education programs, include critical and creative thinking among its priorities (Harris and Carter, 2021, p. 108). Research among creative programme alumni (Ball, Pollard and Stanley, 2010) indicates that graduates from arts and creative disciplines are entrepreneurially minded, often establishing their own small businesses. More broadly the creative arts and media sectors are responsible for over two million jobs. In 2017 The Design Council Report Designing a Future Economy described an economy and creative sector supported by broad ranging design skills, their economic value and the jobs market (2017). Deloitte reports that the total employment supported directly or indirectly by the £16 billion of advertising spend in the UK is estimated in excess of 550,000 jobs (Deloitte, 2013). The Creative Industries Council noted in 2018 that UK advertising helps to export over £2 billion in advertising services each year.

Despite the clear economic advantages of the creative industries, the last ten years have seen a hardening of attitudes to creative and arts disciplines and a change in regulatory bodies. In 2017 the Higher Education and Research Act gave many regulatory powers to the Office for Students removing both the Higher Education Funding Council for England and The Office for Fair Access. The 2019 Augar Review argued that the government could funnel its support to what it perceived as degrees with higher “social and economic value” and away from “low value degrees” (Ahlburg, 2019, p. 794; Augur, 2019). Rhetoric around ‘easy’ or ‘pointless’ creative or media courses was increased (see for example Peat, 2017) and the focus turned to STEM subjects (Harris and Carter, 2021). Many ‘Advertising degrees’ were absorbed into business school offerings or graphic design degrees, moving away from a focus on pure creativity, notwithstanding the IFS own statement that it would be “a major policy error” to remove funding and access to creative courses and to simply focus on business (Ahlburg, 2019, p. 800).

While there is a broad creative sector in which graduates could gain employment, the creative arm of the advertising industry has become somewhat disillusioned by BA degrees.  For creative departments those programmes that come from business and marketing or graphic design, while excellent providers of skills for other marketing and advertising fields, are falling short of the specific requirements for creative departments. Courses such as graphic design often have a focus on production and outcome rather than the creative process (Harris and Carter, 2021). Meanwhile business and marketing degrees have very little creative practice built into their curricula. This has led many advertising agencies to support portfolio courses, such as the School for Communication Arts, that bypass traditional universities altogether. There is an assumption that businesses, like advertising, would only be interested in something that feels very vocational, such as an apprenticeship, yet few apprenticeships are operational. That is not to say that there are not agencies looking to fulfil roles; there has been an increase in job vacancies in marketing fields (Clarke, 2021).

There is clear appetite among young people for creative programmes as, out of the 350,000 students that start degrees in England, around 10% are on a degree in the creative arts (Ahlburg, 2019). These graduates then look for roles in the creative industries indicating that there should be no problem in attracting a diverse range of young people into creative jobs. However, the recent report from the Design Council illustrates a sector that has not found a way to embrace this creative potential (2022, p. 22).

Is either side listening to the other? On the one hand Higher Education (HE) is framed as not providing the skills that business or the government wants. Educators argue against the move to turn all creative courses into creative industries courses, as though they have no value without an employability agenda added (Harris and Carter, 2021). On the other hand, the government has a firm focus on cost, given that creative programmes are among the “costliest subject area studied at English universities” (Ahlburg, 2019, p. 797). They appear to ignore the very real economic benefits in skilled creative and media knowledge. While diversity has become a watch word for legislation, business and Higher Education Institutions, there is little focus on how to actively extend the diversity demonstrated in some degrees to the job market. Business seems very remote from discussions about what is needed and not involved with any level of financial commitment. Few people are listening to the student demand for creative courses or for ways to allow young people to combine their extra-curricular interests with their work.

This vacuum provides an opportunity for thinking differently, to bring business into a relationship with HE to address significant issues of diversity in creative departments. This paper is based on my ongoing research into the transformative effects of cultural and social capital on access to creative advertising jobs. It describes the relationship between the co-designed HE/Industry project The Carbon Academy and the development of a new degree. I will show how representation, the student journey and student interests, the development of cultural and social capital and co-design processes can be combined to create a new model for degree design. The reason for doing this is to propose a way to work with industry to affect social change.



The general lack of diversity in the creative industries has been recognised by both academia (Broyles and Grow, 2008; Christopherson, 2009; Nixon, 2003) and a number of leading industry bodies (British Film Institute, 2001; UK Film Council, 2003). Recently the Financial Conduct Authority summarised the abundance of academic literature on the impact of diversity and inclusion in the workplace in a review showing mixed but broadly positive findings (2021). Notwithstanding economic and business implications, the wider societal good of broad representation across sectors has long been noted, if not implemented. Indeed, it is still plain to see the lack of diversity in creative departments and leadership roles. It is necessary to see people like oneself in creative roles in order to aspire to the role, and once in a role it is important to be seen so that others can aspire. The recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted many of the concerns academic researchers have published over the years over career aspirations of young people (2019). The study noted that faced with traditional stereotypes in media and life, children as young as seven limit their choices and select careers based on what is presented to them. The creative industries themselves have seen the need for better representation and many businesses have a dedicated person to consider issues of diversity and inclusivity. Initiatives to encourage more diverse applicants for jobs have been rolled out; many of which have an educational element to them (such as The Carbon Academy) while some focus more on mentoring (such as the Creative Mentor Network).

A potential route into the competitive creative job market, for young people without family connections, is through HE. Well-planned creative programmes in HE can be a powerful tool for social change. They can encourage and develop the skills and knowledge of a diverse range of young people that would not necessarily have seen ‘themselves’ represented in those roles in the media or in the context of their lives and would not have gone on to consider those roles. Such programmes can make use of the creative interests and skills that many students in Further Education and sixth-form colleges and schools have developed. They can build a well-rounded, lateral set of transferable skills that transcend disciplines (Plucker, Kaufman and Beghetto, 2015) and can develop student initiative, confidence and problem-solving abilities beyond an accumulation of skills that can be written on a CV, such as Word or InDesign competence. The social and economic benefits for wider society that can be brought about through the “significant personal journey” taken by students on a degree is being lost in discussions over perceived value-for-money (Ahlburg, 2019, p. 798).  Through a degree students grow their knowledge, skills and networks and come to understand the wider social, cultural and historical context in which their subject sits and how they can add to it.

When I started trying to help a more diverse range of young people into advertising careers, it was recognised that social and cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986; Bourdieu and Passeron, 2000) played an important role in the employability prospects of school leavers and graduates, and yet its importance was not something that was openly acknowledged by advertising practitioners, or actively addressed in university advertising degrees. Nevertheless, job applicants were assessed on the presence of cultural capital in their portfolios. Cultural capital refers to our cultural knowledge, our cultural artefacts, and our qualifications. In graduate portfolios this would manifest in the cultural styles they reference within their own pieces as well as the ability to be able to talk about it. They were also judged on their social capital, evidenced by whether they were able to get an informal meeting in which they could show their portfolio. And, of course, the level of finish in any portfolio is determined by access to Adobe products, good cameras, locations for shoots, and this comes down to the extended network through family and friends which can give access to such things – another aspect of social capital.

However, it should be noted that Bourdieu highlights the use of ‘capital’ to critique networking and to expose the hidden powers at play that aid certain groups to gain work in the arts sectors. He would have been highly critical of the way I am using cultural and social capital to help people into advertising, not because he did not want to see greater diversity but because he thought there were fundemental issues with recruitment in the cultural sector in the first place. More recently David Lee’s qualitative research highlights the many problems that the expectation of cultural and social capital and personal networks can still bring to freelancers working in the independent film sector (2011).  Whether or not we believe cultural and social capital should be a factor in getting a creative job, any Initiative that tries to address issues of diversity in the creative workforce needs to consider the importance of various capitals (Sorrentino, 2014).

When it comes to creative programmes that have strong employability indicators, such as advertising, a compelling case can be made for a creative degree with a broadly liberal arts approach that intends to grow cultural capital. Here I refer to the liberal arts in lower case, as opposed to the very specific use of the term in American Christian universities with the aim to produce virtuous members of the public. The liberal arts approach places value on “breadth in the curriculum” (Logan and Curry, 2015, p. 66), the drawing in of multiple disciplines as opposed to the increasing specialisation of teaching. There is a requirement to base your understanding in self-knowledge and how you fit into the world (Tubbs, 2018). This provision for self-knowledge is echoed in Dina Belluigi’s study where she found that to design a curriculum with the power to be transformational, students must be able to make use of their “own diagram of the interacting aspects of knowledge, “self” and action” (Belluigi, 2009 quoting; Parker, 1953, p. 27). This weaves the student’s own cultural capital, their own journey and experiences, and the wider cultural capital they can acquire through a more liberal curriculum into one design.

In their analysis of the social composition of the UK film and television workforce, Randle et al. (2015) found that workers compete based on the capitals they possess, firstly to gain access and then to progress their careers within the sector. Such competition requires people to create strategies to acquire, develop and exchange capitals within their portfolio in order to position themselves advantageously for employment. McLeod et al. (2009) explored the career trajectories of British advertising creatives from different social backgrounds and the forms of capital at their disposal and found that ‘working-class’ creatives struggled to overcome the economic, social and cultural barriers they faced on entering the industry. However, once ‘in’, the influence of their social background was more subtle and less detrimental, due to the social capital they had accumulated on route. Recently Richard Wallis spoke about an even wider variety of ‘capital’ a graduate needed to acquire to gain work in the creative industries in the online discussion convened by ViEWS (2021). The recognition and the development of these capitals is an important factor when considering curriculum development, specifically curriculum development with an aim for social change.

My own research, built over ten years, seeks to address the lack of diversity in advertising creative departments by acknowledging the importance of, and trialling ways to develop, social and cultural capital. The latest iteration of this research is the extra-curricular scheme, The Carbon Academy, that I designed following consultancy, working with, and fully funded by international advertising agency M&C Saatchi London. This was later developed into a co-designed project. M&C Saatchi were the perfect industry partner as they are seen by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and government bodies as having expertise in widening participation in advertising through their various outreach projects and involvement with the development of the L3 Apprenticeship.  Through The Carbon Academy the University of Greenwich and M&C Saatchi collaborate to change gender representation within the advertising sector’s creative departments. This has been addressed within The Carbon Academy through an intersectional approach with a focus on encouraging a diverse group of young people that identify as women or non-binary to apply, and a strong visible set of women in leadership and mentoring positions. I use an action research framework to research The Carbon Academy, tracking change from the beginning, middle and end points with both mentees and mentors, followed by content analysis based on the codes from both existing literature and my own research over the last decade. From this I have written a number of reports for M&C Saatchi based on my findings. The concepts described by McLeod et al. (2009) and Randle et al. (2015) were echoed in the themes that emerged from my research; networks, a feeling of creative value, habitus, cultural knowledge, open attitude and work experience.

The Carbon Academy project may have started with an invitation from Justin Tindall, the then Executive Creative Director of M&C Saatchi, to develop a way to address this gender discrepancy but it quickly evolved into a co-design approach. Co-design is a process that I have used many times for module design, departmental initiatives, The Carbon Academy and for the new Creative Advertising and Art Direction degree. Co-designing with fellow researchers, or in the case of The Carbon Academy with practitioners compensates problems, such as issues with the specialist language used, with huge benefits of energising curriculum design, deepening trust between the various parties, creating a joint toolbox of ideas and approaches, and promises a deeper educational approach (Frumin, 2019). After the first year of The Carbon Academy mentees were asked for input and they, and the intern, became partners in the co-design process along with the mentors.  In an educational context it is an extremely effective tool to improve student engagement in modules. Students become partners in their learning journey and are able to take ownership of decisions (Dunne and Owen, 2013). Students have a very clear understanding of how their learning takes place (Gros and López, 2016) and time can be maximised doing things in a way in which they understand. Of course, this does not mean that they develop the module on their own, or that they should like everything that they need to know, but it does mean that the course can be developed with the end user in mind, with pitfalls and problems identified, and with the potential for new and exciting ideas. Student feedback can transform curriculum design and delivery for the better (Seale, 2009).


Developing a curriculum for a new Creative Advertising and Art Direction degree

The University of Greenwich was in a unique position to collaborate with an industry partner to co-design a new degree through the success of The Carbon Academy. M&C Saatchi and I now share a common philosophical and pedagogic approach and have seen success in this ongoing collaboration. We co-design The Carbon Academy on a yearly basis.  The overall rationale of the degree emerged from these ongoing pedagogic, research and practice discussions supported by the research and analysis provided in my yearly reports. Working with Chief Creative Officer Ben Golik, the degree builds on the core concerns outlined in this paper; representation, the student’s personal journey and interests, the development of cultural capital and social capital, and the use of a co-design process.

We took a broad liberal arts approach which encourages critique and philosophical thinking and allows for a more flexible design. Within this framework we built in opportunities for work-like experience and placements (Atfield, Hunt and Luchinskaya, 2021). The degree draws on benchmarks from both Media Communications and Art & Design, which is a unique approach in the sector, and allows for a wide scope of practice approaches. The latest developments in critique of Media Studies (Gauntlett, 2015; Allegue et al., 2009) describe the creative turn as a crucial mode of enquiry and propose a vision of Media Studies based around experience of doing and making. Additionally, Media, being a theoretical and critical subject, brings with it a level of critical engagement with media theory, philosophy and cultural theory, which can be lacking in non-media disciplines.

The degree builds on the knowledge from both academic and industry research that representation is important, and diversity in a team brings creative strength. Advertising creative departments need more people identifying as women or non-binary, more ethnic, sexual, neural, and class diversity, greater age diversity and the inclusion of those with disabilities. Applications are encouraged from these under-represented groups. Mentees that have come through The Carbon Academy have the benefit of a lower tariff to reflect their prior learning. Mentors have been found within the M&C Saatchi group, several of which have been trained in both mentoring and in broader educational principles through The Carbon Academy. Staffing on the university side has also been considered with a strong and visibly diverse range of people leading the degree and modules.

This approach is embedded in every module throughout every year. In the first year, for example in a media theory module students will be asked to reflect on their own identities and positionality through consideration of subjectivity, community, solidarity, feminism, gender performativity, postcolonial identities, and appropriation. In a practical communications module students explore a diversity of audiences and communities, belonging and not-belonging, how society is not monolithic, and how one can reach out and engage with audiences and communities that one may not be part of. The assessment methods in a visually based module specifically support neural diversity and dyslexia with a focus on visual solutions, with ongoing formative feedback and the steady build-up of core visual skills. In the second-year scholarly discussion about representation, internationalisation and different knowledges are raised and a diverse range of practitioners from different agencies share experiences modelling the variety of people that can achieve success in industry.

The student journey and supporting their creative interests provides a consistent focus. The two intentions behind this are first to acknowledge and celebrate the students’ own skills and interests and bring them along as part of the students’ personal journey, and second to encourage a more experimental approach.  On a pragmatic level everyone that was involved in the curriculum design knows that these experimental and left-field interests are often what makes a portfolio stand out.

From the second year and into the third year we enable the students to personalize their degree more by tailoring their work. They can tailor modules around a specialist area such as copy-writing and develop a research focus around their specialist interest in relation to the broader field. The second year also has one module specifically designed to allow them to explore their own interests outside advertising. As educators we often ask students to be more experimental, show courage and take risks. However, Belluigi (2009, p. 705) found that not only was experimentation “not recognised as one of the implicit or explicit assessment criteria” in university assessments, but also students were aware of this. This identifies a problem in two parts; educators ask for more originality and risk, which is process orientated, but grade the results.  As the outcome of risk-taking does not always result in success, the impact of not including specific criteria tied to more experimental processes that carry a level of risk is that students focus on activities that guarantee grades.  This second-year module allows them to focus on process, to take risks and experiment, as well as to develop some of the skills needed for the practice-research project in the third year.

In many ways this is closer to the approach of a Fine-Art degree. The rewards of a broad-based fine arts style education are well documented (Babayants and Frey, 2015; Eisner, 2002). Students develop a sense of self, confidence in their own opinions and judgements, and “enhanced communication skills and improved cognition” (Harris and Carter, 2021, p. 107). Art & Design programmes have a focus on critical engagement, studio-based pedagogies, and research through practice (Baldwin and Roberts, 2006; Noble and Bestley, 2011). Reflection, iterative and ‘hands-on’ processes of enquiry, and an underlying belief in the knowledge held by practitioners, underpins this thinking (Dewey, 1910, 1938; Schön, 1983). Students can make use of “applied creative thinking” using tacit or personally acquired skills to develop new expertise and a deeper level of understanding (Gube and Lajoie, 2020). This goes back to the importance of diversity within the teaching team; the teaching team needs to be built from practitioners as well as academics. Skilled practitioners bring with them tacit knowledge that is hard to replicate, and fortunately practitioners often teach in these art school studio settings.

The development of cultural capital and the knowledge to utilise these symbolic references within creative work is embedded in many of the modules throughout all three years with visits to galleries, organisations, and film screenings pre-planned. Texts from a variety of disciplines are investigated and students acquire a broad-based knowledge about the society in which they sit and its global context. Also needed is some subject-specific knowledge from sociology, philosophy, psychology, and marketing that will widen student cultural capital in other ways. Alongside the cultural capital prized by society, students are also encouraged to value their own cultural capital, from their own life journey, culture, and experiences.

The students’ social capital is built through networks, and networking is a foundational element of the programme design. Academic research suggests that three of the main barriers to working in the creative industries are networking, work experience and habitus. Work experience forms an important part of the student’s journey which makes evident the tacit ‘rules of the game’ (Atkinson, 2010). Work experience is considered very broadly on the degree, through non-credit bearing placements (which the students find with help), working with advertising creatives inside and outside the advertising agency, talking to and working with the myriad creative roles that link to advertising, answering live briefs and presenting to industry. Select second- and third-year modules are partly delivered in the University of Greenwich studios and partly delivered at M&C Saatchi London, rotating students onto the creative floor, working with mentors, live briefs and clients. Creative practitioners are also able to come in or dial in to share their experiences. The students’ sense of habitus is built through these experiences. At the end of the second year M&C Saatchi offer competitive non-credit bearing placements, students that do not complete a placement at M&C Saatchi are given help to find a summer placement with another agency or organisation. These industry relationships come through the teaching staff, from their extensive knowledge, and personal and respected relationships – in other words their own networks.

As this degree has been co-designed with industry, the needs of industry have been considered in every module, including the theoretical modules. A number of other agencies, practitioners, community groups and academic networks have been consulted in the design of modules across all three years (Sorrentino, 2020). This wider roster of partners brings further engagement through presentations, discussion and opportunities for placements and ensures that the degree answers and can critique the future trajectory of a number of different aspects to this creative industry.

The common philosophical and pedagogic ground established in The Carbon Academy, and the rapport and understanding developed across the management team, mentors and wider creative floor have enabled detailed discussion both at module level and more general consideration about skills and knowledge needed and the overall structure of the programme. This led to a sensible and balanced conversation about what could be managed within a working agency and how to maximize that time for students. It is important to note that the degree was not conceived as a vocational apprenticeship because of concerns, both academic and from industry, that the skills developed would be too low-level (Loo and Jamieson, 2017). Equally there was no push for separate work-based learning and core theory modules; another approach trialled by academic/industry partnerships which can lead to the “cannibalisation of existing programmes” (Riley, 2017). I have also dismissed extending the academic year to run shorter, industry-focussed degrees as this will likely overburden academic staff: a concern raised by the UCU.


Concluding remarks

My own research over the last decade questions whether making the need for social and cultural capital an explicit part of the delivery of advertising education can increase diversity in advertising creative departments. This paper investigates whether actively considering representation, the student journey and student interests, the development of cultural and social capital and co-design processes in curriculum design can increase diversity. Of course, we are at the start of this journey, the degree has not yet started, and it is not possible to judge whether it will be successful in bringing diversity to the sector. The successes from The Carbon Academy show it can work well though it is a small intervention. From my own experience of developing this degree, and completing the validation paperwork for it, I would say that it is important to have these values embedded throughout.

Representation, from the target student demographic, to staffing, through to the type of work shown and celebrated, to an awareness of the global context and cultural differences in which the subject sits should be spelt out in all course documentation. This makes the intention clear to all.

The student journey today and their interests are very different from previous generations. Students have led a life with multiple strands, often with jobs and caring responsibilities as well as study. They see a job market filled with portfolio jobs and not jobs for life. They see no conflict with hosting their own YouTube Channel while working for a company that may not have their long-term interests at heart. As well as engaging them with the material needed for their specialist degree, we can also benefit in finding students’ interests and developing ways to ask them to critically engage with that, to bring it to their field of study, for the benefit of themselves, their degree and ultimately the creative industries they will become part of.

We can build in opportunities for the growth of their cultural capital. Students do not arrive at university with the same set of knowledge or privileges so we cannot assume they have the same general set of cultural references around film, art, museums, books etc. We can build relationships outside the university with organisations not strictly related to enhancing employability or skills. Students may not want to go to these things if they are not graded, often because of other commitments, so we cannot make them optional. My research has shown me that students, even practitioners, do not understand the importance of cultural capital yet we are all judged on it. It is therefore up to the academic to embed it in such a way that benefits the projects and grading as well as the life prospects of the student.

We can encourage the growth of social capital through staffing and networks. Knowing which industries or collaborators to approach takes insider knowledge. Like many projects, collaborative endeavours such as this degree start with a single academic – often practitioners that have made the transition into HE. This academic has a network, practitioner knowledge, their own social and cultural capital, and their own journey into academia. Collaborations with industry do not appear out of nowhere. Academics with those skills and understandings need to be nurtured and appreciated across the HE sector. To do this HE needs to re-examine its attitude to practitioner knowledge and the world of work. The relationships these practitioner-academics bring allow students to grow their social capital through networks as well as build the potential for work-experience and placements for a programme.

I use a lot of participatory action research and co-design processes when I design modules and projects. I work with students to improve modules that I currently lead using co-design processes and have worked with mentees on The Carbon Academy to improve the projects and delivery year on year. Alumni from previous courses have been involved in the co-design process of this degree. The collaborative techniques of co-design, and the underlying approach, were essential in building trust and a sense of co-ownership and passion for the degree.

Designing a curriculum with industry means removing academic ego, genuinely believing that everyone in the room is a skilled, knowledgeable partner and behaving as such. As Schön and Dewey outline, practitioner knowledge is as valuable as academic knowledge; the knowledge is simply practice-based. Everyone inputs ideas, from macro to micro level. While it is important to talk about skills, it is also vitally important to talk about overall philosophy and pedagogic approach – what is it that everyone wants to achieve from this? How does this help the individual students, the industry and industry’s place in society? Through open conversation you bring people with you.  I believe it was critically important to start the discussion with the M&C Saatchi senior team from a theoretical place, talking about John Dewey, Donald Schon, David Kolb and Pierre Bourdieu, psychologist Dennis Child, and level three theorists such as Ruth Wallace and Phil Race. This then easily secured their ongoing support and supplied the arguments that could help them with their internal discussions about financing. It encouraged them to be open to a discussion about a specific advertising degree aimed at creative departments.  It also gave us a shared language which we could use to talk about the programme and modules.

In common with many modern universities the University of Greenwich operates a modular model; not everything needs to be designed from scratch. There will be some great pre-existing modules that can support the development of a new degree at many universities. The Creative Advertising and Art Direction programme is underpinned by established shared modules. Pragmatically the requirement for only one or two new modules in the first year makes for straightforward implementation. Knowing the content and approach for each pre-existing module and talking through the details with the co-design team (rather than abstract Learning Outcomes) allows everyone to take a view on their suitability.

When modules need to be designed from scratch, it is important that not just big picture thinking happens in co-design sessions but week-by-week planning; get down to the detail – talk about activities, projects or life experiences that the team members have undergone that taught a particular skill or concept really well, and play around with the order of delivery. This comes back to treating everyone in the room as a skilled knowledgeable partner. If one holds on to the idea that only an academic can organise week-by-week learning, nothing will change. This inevitably has some level of risk and means the academic cannot position themselves as the one who knows best. This does not mean the academic partner is secondary; they know how sessions operate within their own institution, they know how to vary the assessment diet and deadlines, and how to keep a sharp focus on issues such as cultural and social capital. In short, the academic loses none of their specialist skill and knowledge but gains a whole new set of ideas.

It takes a lot of work and trust for industry to believe that institutions with little relationship and interest in the working world have any knowledge at all about what they might want or need. They do not trust that institutions will not change teaching staff on a whim or change the resourcing – promising one thing but delivering something completely different. My experience of working with industry is that they do not want to create worker bees; they want free thinkers capable of lateral problem solving with a positive attitude to the world of work. They want a range of transferable skills that are not siloed in specific disciplines but are flexible and adaptive (Plucker, Kaufman and Beghetto, 2015).

Though this paper focussed on a new Creative Advertising and Art Direction programme the reality is that any industry-focused portfolio can develop a programme with a similar industry relationship. Universities merely have to approach industry collaborations in a particular way. I think this is possible across disciplines, and I have outlined the approach we took. Though there is much talk about the utility of STEM subjects compared to creative subjects, there are, in fact, a broad range of jobs that desire the lateral and flexible skillsets that creative courses offer and a large number of students that wish to apply for them. There is plenty of scope for academics across the country to develop these new industry co-designed degrees.


About the author

Miriam Sorrentino is a Programme Leader of the Creative Advertising and Art Direction degree and Senior Lecturer in Visual Communications in the School of Design, University of Greenwich. Following fifteen plus years as an art director in industry she began research and teaching in graphic design and media. She works in a consultant capacity with M&C Saatchi on The Carbon Academy.



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