University degrees – are they worth the cost?

college graduates group

By Heather Cameron

Often cited as the best path to a successful career, university degrees continue to come under the spotlight with questions over their actual value, particularly with tuition fees now starting to increase.

Millions of young people who received their exam results last month will be weighing up their options. But what was perhaps once a fairly straightforward decision for many, is made far more complex by the modern financial burden of undertaking a degree, coupled with the availability of alternative routes without the prospect of accruing tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt in the process.

Cost

It certainly isn’t a cheap option to pursue a university degree. For 2017, many colleges/universities across the UK will be able to charge tuition fees of up to £9,250. And this doesn’t include the living costs of student life. The National Union of Students (NUS) has estimated that the average annual cost of living in England (outside of London) for students is £12,056.

Recent YouGov Omnibus research, which surveyed more than 500 current students and recent graduates, found that one in three recent graduates disagreed that the “costs of going to university were worth it for the career prospects/learning I gained”. It also identified ‘significant pessimism’ among both graduates and students over loans and whether they will ever be free of the burden of repayments during their working life. A large proportion (41%) don’t expect to ever pay off their student loan.

However, it was also noted that many recent graduates may have false expectations about how much they will have to pay back. More than four in ten (41%) said they didn’t understand how the interest rate on student loans works.

Research into the number of ‘contact’ hours a student receives over the course of their degree has been suggested to support the opinion that it is not good value for money. The average humanities student will have around 10 hours per week of scheduled ‘contact’ time in lectures and seminars, although it is often less. And there is much variation across subject areas, which is not reflected in tuition fees. According to an economics lecturer at the New College of the Humanities in London, “It certainly seems like humanities students are subsidising Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] students.”

Job prospects

In addition to the cost of doing a degree featuring in the decision to pursue this path, the employment prospects following a degree have also received attention.

A recent study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that there is a great deal of diversity among graduate earnings. While almost all institutions have graduates with earnings above the 20th percentile of the non-graduate earnings distribution, and most institutions have graduates with earnings above the non-graduate median, graduate earnings for men at more than one in 10 universities were lower than for non-graduates. And earnings for graduate women were found to be worse at nine institutions of the 166 included.

The findings also show that that graduates who came originally from wealthier backgrounds earned significantly more than their poorer counterparts ten years after graduation, even if they had studied the same course at the same institution.

This also raises questions over the value of a degree, particularly for those students from poorer backgrounds.

Having a degree certainly doesn’t guarantee a job with a competitive salary at the end of it, or indeed even a job at all as previous research has shown. Nevertheless, the IFS findings do highlight that higher education does pay for the majority, with graduates more likely to be in work and earn more than non-graduates.

Satisfaction

Satisfaction with degrees among students has shown to be relatively high overall. The latest annual Student Academic Experience Survey reveals that most students believe they are learning ‘a lot’ and perceptions of teaching quality are rising.

However, the survey also shows there continues to be a downward trend in perceptions of value, which has been highlighted as a particular concern. The percentage of students who think university is not value for money has almost doubled in the last five years.

The wellbeing of students also continues to be relatively low compared to the rest of the population and the majority oppose the high-fees model of funding.

Final thoughts

The cost of pursuing a degree along with the evidence on graduate earnings suggests that higher education may no longer be the leveller it once was perceived to be. Rather, it may appear that university degrees are once again becoming a path only for those from the richest households.

Clearly there is a lot for policy-makers to consider.


If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also like our previous post on graduate employment.

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Who am I? The importance of life story books for looked after children

paper family on hand

By Heather Cameron

Every adopted child in the UK should have a life story book – an account of a child’s life in words, pictures and documents containing information on the child’s birth family, care placements and reasons for their adoption – which is given to them and their new family when preparing for a permanent placement.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to create life story books for all adopted children, providing them with a sense of identity and understanding of their early life before adoption. They are a well-established practice in the UK and most local authorities provide guidance on preparing them.

However, research has found that the quality of life story books varies hugely.

Variation in quality

The research, conducted by the Voluntary Adoption Agency, Coram, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, focused on adopters’ perspectives on their children’s life storybooks, which it identified as lacking from the academic literature.

Although adopters welcomed the idea of life story books, they were critical of their execution. And despite accounts of positive experiences, there was a broad consensus that:

  • many books were of poor quality;
  • children had been poorly prepared to explore their histories;
  • adoption professionals and agencies did not seem to prioritise life storybooks; and
  • adopters felt poorly prepared in how to use and update life storybooks with their children.

While 40% of adoptive parents said their books were ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, a third said they were ‘terrible’.

Issues were raised around lack of communication, opportunity to provide input and what was included in the books. One adopter said “We did not have the opportunity to discuss but what I would have said was this is rubbish – all of it is rubbish”. Another said “I can never show my daughter hers because there is stuff in there that I don’t ever what her to see”.

Another theme to emerge was an excessive focus on the birth family, foster family or social worker rather than the child, and the use of inappropriate language.

For those who regarded their books in a positive light, they believed the story was told well, was age appropriate and honest, and didn’t construct a ‘fairy tale’ that would give the child an unrealistic view.

Invaluable

For adopted children, life story books can be key to providing details of their history and background, providing continuity in their life histories and preparing them for a permanent placement.

Often, they are the only thing an adopted child has by way of personal, accurate and detailed information on their past. As one mother commented on the importance of birth photos, “It’s all they have left of their own babyhood”.

Done well, they can be invaluable, as described by one adopter:

‘a good quality life storybook builds a bridge back to that huge part of her that we didn’t see and it is her main link to her past’

It has therefore been argued that life story work should be prioritised and appropriate support provided.

Ingredients for success

Coram’s research highlighted several key things for successful life story work; one being having staff dedicated to life story work.

Bournemouth has been highlighted as an example of good practice for their life story work. Their separate adoption department appointed a dedicated family support practitioner to take on responsibility for the life story books for children adopted in Bournemouth.

In 2012, the council received an ‘outstanding’ rating by Ofsted and was named as joint adoption service of the year.

Also highlighted by the research, was that gaps in the narrative were not helpful, and support for adopters is paramount, as is training for social workers.

To improve the quality of life story work across the board, Coram’s report urges adoption agencies to make considerably better use of life story books and invest in improved training for professionals, while monitoring the quality of books produced and providing better access to support and guidance for adopters to engage in such important work with their children over time.

Bournemouth illustrates the importance of doing life story work well. And as the research concludes, “linking a child’s past and present is crucial ‘bridging’ work in enabling permanence in placements”.


If you enjoyed reading this, you may also like our previous articles on kinship carers and the value of foster care.

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Hidden in plain sight – the value of green spaces

jardin public

By Heather Cameron

They may be something most of us see every day but take for granted – the area of green space we pass on our way to work or frequent in our lunch break. And although we might make use of such spaces on a regular basis, is the true value of them really understood?

As highlighted by a recent report from the Land Trust, green spaces provide even more to society than we often think about.

Wider value

It has long been recognised that green spaces provide multiple benefits to communities and wider society, but there has been limited robust evidence on their wider economic value. The Land Trust report highlights that the services delivered by soil, grass, flowers, trees and water provide society and the economy with significant benefits.

It suggests that several important functions are provided by these green spaces, including:

  • Reducing and preventing flooding
  • Cleaning our water
  • Storing and removing carbon
  • Cleaning our air, reducing air pollution

Such functions help to alleviate costs to local and wider communities, such as to the health service, other public services and local businesses. Previous research has similarly alluded to such benefits.

Independent research by UK scientists in 2011 highlighted the true value of nature in relation to the economic, health and social benefits, estimating that it was worth billions of pounds to the UK economy.

Other research has also shown that green space has been linked to reduced levels of obesity in children and young people, and that access to open spaces is associated with higher levels of physical activity and reductions in a number of long-term conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and musculoskeletal conditions.

The proportion of green and open space is also linked to self-reported levels of health and mental health, through improved companionship, sense of identity and belonging and happiness. And living in areas with green spaces is associated with less income-related health inequality, thereby reducing the effect of deprivation on health.

What the Land Trust’s report does differently, is demonstrate these widely recognised benefits in physical and monetary terms to help create a greater understanding of the economic contribution of well-managed green spaces.

Natural capital accounting

A ‘natural capital accounting’ approach was taken to translate these benefits into financial terms, taking consideration of the physical land, its quality, how it is managed, used and the functions it performs.

Two different parks – Silverdale Country Park in the Midlands and Beam Parklands in London – were used in the study to demonstrate this value. Overall, Silverdale’s annual natural capital value was estimated to be £2.6 million, with a return on investment of £35 for every £1 invested, while Beam Parklands’ natural capital value, based on a 99 year period, has been valued at £42 million – an increase of £21 million since 2009.

Other benefits provided by Silverdale include:

  • Nearly £400,000 per year of flood risk reduction benefits
  • An annual value of £82,000 for the park and its maintenance to retain and purify water
  • A wider annual value of £840,000 of absorbed and stored carbon
  • A potential increase of 113% in local air pollution absorption since 2011

Other benefits provided by Beam Parklands (primarily a flood defence) include:

  • Nearly £600,000 per year of flood risk reduction benefits
  • Nearly £800,000 per year of educational and health benefits to the local community

As two well-maintained green spaces, they indicate the importance of long-term investment.

Final thoughts

Perhaps these financial values will help people to better comprehend the true value of our green spaces. As the report notes, it is important to remember that they are “not ‘one off’ monetary values or price tags” but rather an indication of what our green spaces are worth and their benefits to both society and the economy.

Put simply, as the Land Trust concludes, “green spaces… are valuable to society”.


If you enjoyed reading this, you may also like our previous articles on pocket parks and green spaces.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. 

Moving into the 21st century … the challenges and opportunities of digital culture

art gallery, kelvingrove glasgowBack in December, I attended the International Symposium on Evaluating Digital Cultural Resources at the newly refurbished Kelvin Hall in Glasgow.

The day provided an opportunity for researchers and professionals with an interest in culture and heritage in Scotland to come together to consider how digital technologies are transforming the sector. Key questions addressed included what digital culture means in practice, and how to demonstrate the benefits for both professionals and the public who experience culture and heritage in galleries, libraries, museums and other cultural spaces.

Whose ‘culture’ is it anyway?

A number of the studies presented during the day argued that making a collection ‘digital’ does not necessarily make it accessible. In some instances “preserving” collections by digitising them can actually make sources less accessible to members of the general public than if they had been kept in “hard copy” – raising the question of who exactly the material is being preserved for.

Is it for the benefit of researchers and archivists of the future? Or is the aim to present heritage and culture in a new way, preserving it, but in a way which makes it more engaging to the general public?

Questions were raised about public access, digital copyright, online availability, online cataloguing and digital databases – sometimes collections can remain as hidden as they had been before they were digitised, due to paywalls or complicated and over-elaborate online archives.

And it was clear throughout the day that delegates and speakers were wrestling with the notion of “ownership of digital cultural resources”. One example highlighted was that of Scotland’s Sounds, an audio archive of recordings which is held in the National Library of Scotland. These are resources captured in communities, donated by people and groups who want their local heritage to be preserved.

However, when it is held in a collection within a national institution, decisions about these resources are centralised with curators. They decide which elements of the collection should be exhibited and when. And they design the layout of the collection and the edited versions of recordings. Is the power of creation taken away from the original creators in this process? And does “going digital” actually make the resources, while preserving them, more inaccessible to local people who could be daunted by the prospect of visiting a national institution or may not be able to travel.

Researchers from the online archive database project ENUMERATE found that only 3-4% of digitised cultural heritage collections are available through Wikipedia (which is the world’s 7th most viewed website). What is the point, they asked, of investing in digitising if collections are as inaccessible as they were before?

This also ties in with the question of who the intended audience is. Publicly funded museums and galleries are increasingly asked about their “audience reach”. Digitising colections and making resources findable by anyone in the world may increase website visits and page hits but does this have the same value as engaging with targeted or local communities? It depends on the mission of the heritage organisation and what they view success to be.

Justifying spend and showing value

Project managers at the conference reported that they were facing a constant struggle to fund online developments. And in many cases, in the period of time from commissioning to implementation the technology and expectations moves on again.

Demonstrating value and impact are central to securing and reporting on how funds are spent in relation to digital collection projects. Funding bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund have a set of deliverable requirements which should be included in funding bids in order to exemplify good and sustainable use of funding, particularly in relation to digital projects. This includes creating resources which have a long life span (the favoured format is online PDF uploads, although they are trying inhouse to diversify their content); creating projects that will preserve heritage and benefit communities; and creating projects which have ambition and are easy to use, while also contributing to the organisation’s wider digital infrastructure and outcomes plan (which may also include interactive exhibitions and the provision of public Wi-Fi).

A unique opportunity to bring history and culture to life for new learners

When bidding for funding, cultural heritage organisations will often claim the project will support learning within their communities. However, many write this in their “digital strategy” without really knowing what it could or should mean in practice. How schools and other learners can engage with digital cultural projects is important not only to showing their value but to developing the collections in the future, making them representative or the interests and desires of their local communities.

Technology-enhanced learning was something which many delegates raised as one of the major potential benefits of digitising collections. In addition to the benefits for planners (particularly erosion and building management specialists) and the tourism industry (through virtual reality city tours which show what an area looked like hundreds of years ago) delegates stressed that one of the primary aims of digital collections was to make it easier for material to be used as a tool for learning. An example given at the conference was the REVISIT project which was run in Glasgow and focused on the British Empire Exhibition of 1938 which took place in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. The project created a 3D visualisation of over 100 buildings from the exhibition. The modellers worked from dozens of small-scale drawings, hundreds of photographs and many maps to recreate the 3D virtual Empire Exhibition as well as mapping roads, pathways and other transport systems in the area. These were then uploaded to an online repository, with accompanying text, where they could be viewed and “explored” using navigation tools.

bee-image

Image of the 3D recreation of the 1938 British Empire Exhibition, Glasgow

The aim of the project was to create a permanent resource for the exploration, research and public exhibition of the Empire Exhibition of 1938 in the context of Scottish and UK social and architectural history. Researchers used a variety of archived material, newspaper articles, photos and interviews with people who attended the exhibition to create the interactive map. They then invited local school children to use the resources to inform their learning on the topic through a series of guided workshop sessions and interactive group activities. The 3D maps were a learning resource but also a tool to generate discussion and questioning about the period and the exhibition itself.

Measuring the “impact of digital” in cultural spaces

One of the most interesting sessions of the day involved input from the V&A in London. It highlighted how mapping and analytics, as well as a more functional understanding of users and visitors to the museum, can be used to help during digital planning. The way that consumer research around digital cultural resources is done can help refine digital programmes in an efficient and cost effective way.

va-online-user-groups

Kati Price from the V&A led a discussion on the creation of new digital platforms and how important understanding user preference can be in design and functionality of digital resources in a museum setting. She highlighted their use of agile methods to test the usability and effectiveness of some of the new digital content produced by the V&A, including new audio guides. In terms of measuring outcomes in digital strategies, she stressed the importance of being flexible with your evaluation methods but also to consider what are you measuring, when in the process are you measuring it, and why and to what end are you measuring it.

Summing up

The day provided useful insight into the challenges and opportunities of digital for cultural and heritage organisations.

It highlighted the adaptability of cultural spaces to digital environments, and the value and benefit to collections of “going digital”. It also identified some potential directions for the future, such as 3D printing to create replicas and Virtual Reality platforms to create more immersive and interactive learning spaces.

It is clear, however, that if the cultural heritage sector is to make the most of what could potentially be game-changing technology, museums, libraries and other organisations need to work closely with communities to make sure they remain connected to their heritage and do not get left behind by this digital revolution.

Cultural spaces need to be mindful of potential exclusion and work to promote digital engagement, skills and education to allow people to access and contribute to the future growth of digital collections in Scotland and the UK.


Reading Room (an Idox company) is one of the UK’s leading digital agencies and has extensive experience working with museums and libraries on award-winning digital projects. Clients include the British Library, Arts Council England, The National Archives, and Durham Council (Durham at War archive). If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help your organisation with developing your digital strategy, contact info.uk@readingroom.com

Understanding the value of public money could be key to council tax reform in Scotland

This week saw the publication of a report by a cross party commission on the state of local government funding, specifically examining the council tax in Scotland. For many years the council tax has been declared as unfit for purpose by politicians in Holyrood. However little has actually been done in the way of reform. As things stand, following John Swinney’s budget announcement, council tax bills remain frozen for the 9th successive year.

The need for reform

The system has been  called regressive, ineffective, and anti-poor (among other things). But while most agree that the council tax in Scotland cannot continue in its current form, there is much disagreement about the new direction for the council tax, and about local government funding more widely.

The council tax freeze in Scotland has meant that in addition to budget cuts, councils have also been under pressure from reduced income. This is not to the advantage of the worst off, as some might assume. Instead, the uneven banding system means that while middle band payers spend 4% of their wages on council tax, those in the highest two bands only spend 2%

Houses-on-coins-by-Images-MoneyThe impact of the freeze

Despite the council tax only making up 2% of council income, it is estimated that the freeze has cost local government in Scotland more than £500m in the last year, and over £2bn since the freeze was introduced. That’s £2bn, commentators argue, which has not been spent on hospitals, schools, policing or community investment at a local level.

However a visible rise in tax bills while services are being cut back would be a difficult one to spin. As observed during a seminar I recently attended,  people feel council tax increases more acutely than other tax increases because they receive the bills through their door. Other taxes are less visible, or happen before the point of cost. VAT rises or stamp duty rises, for example, are not regarded with quite as much hostility by the general public as council tax rises.

At the same time, people don’t seem to realise what they are getting for their council tax, or how much public expenditure actually costs. This needs to change if politicians are going to be truly allowed to reform council tax and to replace it with any number of the other options outlined in the commission’s report.

Alternative options include:

  • a more equal income-based system, only partly based on house value
  • a more localised option, where local authorities are afforded the freedom of selecting numerous smaller local taxes, which would increase accountability and transparency of where the money is going
  • a re-investment model where income taxes are increased, but the value is redistributed to services within a person’s local area, so people know the money they are being taxed on is going directly local services.
  • cutting costs and reallocating tax fund distribution by relocating services, to reassess which services fall under the remit of local government and which should be taken back under national control and adjusting the money given to local government accordingly

Participative budgeting models have also been mooted, but how this would work in practice is not clear at the moment.

Discussion today, or dysfunction tomorrow

One thing is for sure: council tax needs to be reformed, and the report appears to suggest there are two choices:

  • discuss it openly and robustly now to come to a sensible conclusion with appropriate implementation frameworks and a timetable to transition; or
  • wait until local government is not financially functional and the choices are made out of necessity, as a quick fix, with short term goals and outcomes which potentially make the situation worse rather than better.

Value, cost, framing and how people view taxation will be key to these strategies.


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Is there any value in preserving our built heritage?

By Alan Gillies

Concerns that Edinburgh may lose its World Heritage Site (WHS) status hit the headlines in October, as a team from the UK committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, UNESCO’s official adviser on cultural World Heritage Sites, arrived in the Scottish capital for a visit.

Two controversial planning applications for luxury hotels in the city were the focus of attention – the conversion of the former Royal High School (at one time the planned home of the new Scottish Parliament); and the redevelopment of the 1970s St James shopping centre.

The hotel on the St James site, with its ‘spiralling ribbon’ design, was approved by the council’s planning committee in August against the recommendation of council planning officers. The Old Royal High School application is yet to be decided, but is reported to have attracted over 2000 objections via the council’s e-planning portal. Historic Environment Scotland, statutory consultee for planning applications, has also lodged its official objection to the Royal High School scheme.

Although there is uncertainty over whether Edinburgh’s World Heritage status is genuinely under threat, the controversy has highlighted an important issue for planners and city policy makers everywhere. What is the value of conserving the built heritage of a place?

The benefits of World Heritage Site status

In terms of the World Heritage status itself, there are doubts over its benefits for sites like Edinburgh that are already well-known and established tourist destinations. According to Aylin Orbasli, Oxford Brookes University, “This is partly because the heritage tourism map of the UK is already drawn. Bath, Edinburgh, York and Oxford are all popular tourist attractions regardless of whether they are World Heritage Sites or not (Bath and Edinburgh are, York and Oxford are not).

UNESCO itself acknowledges that less well-known UK sites “potentially gain more” than those famous prior to UNESCO designation. As an example of the benefits for smaller sites, it highlights the Cornish Mining WHS, whose annual income has increased by 100% since gaining World Heritage status.

Even for more established sites, UNESCO argues that money invested in conservation by authorities in connection with World Heritage status encourages private sector investment. Using the Edinburgh World Heritage Site as an example, it reports that £414,246 in public grants for building conservation leveraged in additional funding from private sources of over £1.9 million in 2011-12. The most recent figures  for 2013-14 from Edinburgh World Heritage still show that every £1 of public spending leveraged in about £5 from other sources, albeit on a lower level of spend – just under £180,000 in public grants resulting in a total spend of £971,563 on conservation.

Are there drawbacks to WHS status?

A 2010 Oxford Brooked University study of Bath World Heritage Site commented on the planning and development pressures created by the status, including as an example the city’s controversial redevelopment of another 1970s shopping centre (Southgate).

The study found that the city’s WHS status “places additional responsibilities on the local council that are beyond its normal duties”, incurring costs that have to be met by the council itself. It concluded that “Bath does not gain any discernible additional economic benefit from being a WHS”. However the report does suggest that the status had enabled better preservation, stricter development control, attention to detail and investment in the public realm that may not otherwise have been as rigorous.

Wider benefits of the built heritage

Studies of the value of the built heritage more generally have been more consistently positive.

English Heritage’s most recent estimate is that built heritage tourism contributed £5.1bn in the UK in 2011, and that, after including indirect and induced effects, the total economic impacts of built heritage tourism included 393,000 jobs and £14.0bn of economic output.

From a business location perspective, the popularity of historic areas has been highlighted by research for the Heritage Lottery Fund, particularly for those in “the most highly productive parts of the economy” – professional services and the creative and cultural sector. It also found that the ‘heritage premium’ associated with the occupation of these listed buildings (the extra gross value added (GVA) they generate over and above the amount generated by businesses in non-listed buildings) is £13,000 per business per year.

Social and community benefits

There are also non-financial benefits. A study by Newcastle University in 2009 found “the first robust evidence” that living in more historic built environments is linked to a stronger sense of place, and that interest in historic built environments is also linked with higher levels of social capital.

The value people place on historic environments has been further shown in a study by researchers at the LSE, which found that house prices in conservation areas averaged around nine per cent higher than other areas. From a planning perspective, this study was also interesting in that it suggested that conservation areas were actually a popular planning policy both among planners and among the public. Planning officers appreciated the heightened ability to push for high quality new build in designated areas. And, surprisingly, home owners in the conservation areas who had applied for permission were more likely to have positive attitudes toward planning controls than those who had not applied. Perhaps this indicates that the perception of how restrictive planning controls are in conservation areas is not borne out in practice?

Heritage and city development

Of course the danger to be avoided is the temptation to regard historic areas as something to be ‘pickled in aspic’. Cities are living, changing places and the aim of designations such as World Heritage Site and conservation area is not to prevent development.

In fact the main objectors to the two planning cases in question in Edinburgh are not against the building of the hotels as such, but are based on certain specific design grounds. In the St James case, objections were over choice of materials and the effect of a height increase on the skyline; and in the case of the Royal High School, Historic Environment Scotland has objected over the scale of the proposed hotel, which would “dominate and overwhelm” the existing building.

Whatever the outcome of the current planning cases in Edinburgh, and the questions over the city’s World Heritage status, the available evidence does indicate that the built heritage provides significant benefits for cities. The challenge for planners is to find the right balance between conserving the historic nature of such sites but at the same time allowing them to continue to develop to meet the needs of current and future generations. As it says in the Scottish Government’s historic environment strategy, the historic environment should be “cared for and protected, enjoyed and enhanced.”


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on planning and development. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Further reading:

Can cities exploit, conserve & promote their historic environment?

Values and benefits of heritage

Our place in time: the historic environment strategy for Scotland

The economic impact of the UK heritage tourism economy

Heritage works: the use of historic buildings in regeneration – a toolkit of good practice

The economics of uniqueness: investing in historic city cores and cultural heritage assets for sustainable development

The costs and benefits of World Heritage Site status in the UK

Child neglect, wellbeing and resilience – adopting an art’s based approach (Seminar highlights)

upset boy against a wall

By Rebecca Jackson

‘Neglect is a complex issue but art can help, so let it’. That was one of the key messages to come out of a seminar session held at Strathclyde University last week.

The seminar is one of a series of four, looking at how arts-based techniques can be used in research and practice when interacting with neglected children. The session also considered how the arts can be used as a tool to promote resilience among vulnerable and neglected children by building self esteem, a sense of self worth, providing an outlet for emotion and supporting self efficacy.

The interactive seminar drew on a range of topics and sources. Academics from the Universities of Stirling and Dundee led the discussions and delegates included practitioners from psychology, social work, education and social research.

Lack of value placed on the arts

Some general themes to emerge from discussions included:

  • The lack of value placed on the arts as a form of assessment and interaction with children in a professional setting.
  • The over-emphasis on outcomes and funding which means that more ‘fun’ resources and methods are overlooked for more cost or time efficient ones, rather than the ones which work best for each individual child.
  • Children quite easily and quite quickly, between the ages of 10-14 go from being ‘neglected, vulnerable children’ in the eyes of society to ‘problem or troublesome children’.
  • The need to clarify what is meant by successful outcomes and the sense that outcomes have to be quantifiable, with one participant commenting:

    “I am required to produce reports and look for evidence in facts and figures, when in reality, getting a child who has suffered neglect to feel self-worth, or to say they have had fun could and should be a major indicator of the success of a scheme. That is difficult to evidence to other people who don’t know that child.”

Discussions from the day were captured by a graphic designer (Rebecca Jackson, 2015)

Discussions from the day were captured by a graphic designer (Rebecca Jackson, 2015)

Benefits of arts-based interventions

Some of the more art-specific observations from those who use it in their practice highlighted:

  • That removing children from feeling as though they are the centre of attention can be helpful in engaging them – baking, building things from Lego and drawing or colouring can help with this:

    “One-to-one interviews can be very intimidating for children, often they can cause them to close up more as they feel there is pressure and judgement from adults. Blending art activities with standard practice creates a better environment for a child and addresses some of that power imbalance which they are often acutely aware of.”

  • Distancing the child from their story, through analogies, creative writing or storytelling can also help them to open up:

    “I will quite often say, if you had a friend who…. or if there was a character in a story who…. how do you think they would feel? what would you tell them to do? who could they talk to about it? Just giving that little bit of hypothetical distance can really help a child to open up. The story creates an extra level of safety for them”

  • Resources are a big barrier:

    “I work in an office – that’s where I hold my meetings – where can I find a space to bake a cake with a child?”

  • Making full use of the community and its resources – and having the guts to ask for something if you want it:

    “You will be surprised and amazed by people’s generosity if you just ask”

  • Relationships will always be key, and arts-based practice can help encourage and shorten the time it takes for practitioners to build these relationships.

    “Quite often it is one key person, who engages with that child, who the child trusts and feels safe and comfortable around, that can make the biggest difference to that child’s progress”

Future questions

This seminar session was designed as a way to introduce arts based practices in cases of child neglect and vulnerable children and to identify some of the key strategic barriers to its use in practice in Scotland (and the UK more widely). In many ways it raised more questions than it answered.

The subsequent sessions, to be held in early 2016 at the University of Strathclyde and the University of Stirling, will use these discussions to address how academics, practitioners and policy-makers can create a strong collective voice to encourage training in, and promotion of, arts-based practice in Scotland.


Scottish Universities Insight Institute seminar series:Child neglect, wellbeing and resilience: adopting an arts-based approach

Seminar 1: Research methodologies and arts based approaches to resilience and neglect (26th October 2015)

Who was speaking?

  • Professor Brigid Daniel, School of Applied Social Studies, University of Stirling
  • Cheryl Burgess, Research Fellow, University of Stirling
  • Jane Scott, Business Development, WithScotland
  • Dr Susan Elsley, Independent Researcher and associate of CRFR at University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Divya Jindal-Snape, Education, Inclusion and Life Transitions, University of Dundee

Creative contribution – the value of arts education

künstlermaterial

By Heather Cameron

According to the Creative Industries Council (CIC) it’s “an exciting and pivotal time for the UK’s creative industries”, with recent statistics showing that the sector punches above its weight in terms of the economy, generating £71.4 billion gross value added (GVA) in 2012 – a 9.4 % increase that surpasses the growth of any other UK industry sector.

Five priority areas for focus were identified by CIC in their recent strategy for the sector:

  • access to finance;
  • education and skills;
  • infrastructure;
  • intellectual property;
  • and international (exports and inward investment).

Despite the positive value of this sector, there are a number of challenges which could hinder progress, particularly in relation to education.

A lack of investment in arts and crafts subjects could have serious consequences for the future of higher education (HE) in the arts and ultimately for the creative industries sector. Francine Norris, Director of Education at West Dean College, which offers courses in conservation and visual arts, recently commented that the government needs to wake up to the fact that arts and crafts underpin the UK’s world-leading creative industries sector. The CIC has highlighted craft as a fundamental component of the UK’s creative industries, employing over 100,000 people and showing an above average increase in GVA between 2008 and 2012.

The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) has argued that government policy changes have had a negative impact on the subject. In their most recent survey of art, craft and design educators, which considered the position and value of the subject in schools in the last three years (2011-2014), NSEAD concluded that:

“Performance measures continue to erode provision at key stage 3 and 4; fewer specialist teachers are being trained and there is a paucity of subject specific professional development; learning opportunities for pupils both in school and within the cultural sector have diminished; and the subject lacks value, especially in the state school sector.”

NSEAD has also noted that the number of candidates (male and female) sitting GCE A level art and design subjects continues to fall, with a total of 44,922 sitting the exam this year, compared to 45,336 in 2013 and 46,483 in 2012 when numbers peaked.

According to a recent Crafts Council report, the number of arts GCSEs studied by children has fallen by 14% since the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was introduced in 2010. Arts subjects are not included in the EBacc, which is currently the main performance measure for schools, so it is unsurprising that participation has decreased at a time when schools are under increasing pressure to meet performance targets.

Added to this, the Cultural Learning Alliance has commented on figures released earlier this year by the Department for Education, suggesting that the arts are experiencing a disproportionate decline in provision. According to the data, the number of hours that arts subjects are taught and the number of arts teachers in England’s secondary schools have fallen since 2010 by up to 11%. In contrast, the EBacc subjects of history and geography have seen the number of teachers and hours taught rise between 7% and 12%.

The problem continues at the level of higher education, with university places in the arts and crafts also declining in the face of high tuition fees and a lack of funding. The Crafts Council highlights a 39% decline in the number of arts and craft courses available in the five years to 2012, down from 820 courses in 2007/08 to 500 in 2011/12.

Surely if the outstanding economic contribution of the creative industries sector is to continue, then the value of arts education must be recognised and continue to be sufficiently supported? A review by the Arts Council, which reported that learning through arts and culture improves attainment across many other aspects of the school curriculum, also highlighted gaps in research evidencing the benefits of arts and culture, concluding that:

“Driving the development of evidence and research in understanding the impact arts and culture plays on the wider society will be critical to shaping and developing arguments in favour of sustained public investment in arts and culture.” 

Perhaps this lack of evidence of the value of the arts is what needs to be addressed in order to increase awareness.


 

Further reading

Evaluating Sistema Scotland: ‘arts and smarts’ – assessing the impact of arts participation on academic performance during school years, systematic literature review (Work package 2)

Creating artists’ workspace

Embedding arts and humanities in the creative economy: the role of graduates in the UK, IN Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, Vol 32 No 3 Jun 2014, pp426-450

The value of arts and culture to people and society: an evidence review

Building a creative nation: evidence review

Arts and crafts: critical to economic innovation, IN Economic Development Quarterly, Vol 27 No 3

The contribution of the arts and culture to the national economy

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on a range of arts and culture topics. Abstracts and full text access to subscription journal articles are only available to members.