Monday, September 05, 2005

Graduate Retention

Spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon last weekend catching up with Dan Hunt, one-time student on the (now-defunct) Multimedia Design Subject route in Visual Communications that I headed up. Dan's always been an interesting guy; he's by nature inter-disciplinary, and not in the dilettantish way it often shows up. Rather he seems to find himself drawn towards areas that he knows little of, in the process expanding his own knowledge just enough to give him a new perspective on his core concerns. He's been back working in his home town of Oxford for a little while now, at Minervation who are deeply entrenched in the world of web design and usability for medical applications. Dan's well-suited to such a vertical company though web design wears on everyone after a while (how long depends on how easy you find it to turn off your critical and intellectual faculties in pursuit of a pay cheque), and he's being lured back towards the world of creative education, with a potential role at the VRU.

A good part of me hopes Dan comes back to Birmingham for a while, as it'll be interesting having him around, but much of our conversation centered on more interesting places to be (such as Berlin, from where Dan's architect girlfriend Catha hails), and how the concept of graduate retention in the city (which government types view as highly desirable) increasingly rubs up against the goal of creative education being a springboard to lots of possibilities. Students I've worked with at BIAD are now scattered globally, some returning to their home territories (Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Japan, Norway, France..), others venture outside of what they've known after coming into contact with a much broader cultural base at university (studying for Masters degrees in Paris, teaching English through multimedia in Osaka, web design in New York).

The broadening and cultural enrichment is only part of the equation too; students are attracted and excited by courses that leave them with a global rolodex and a plethora of potential destinations. The counter-argument says that in order to create a culturally-rich city we need to be able to offer graduates employment right here. This is of course partially true, but it's a landscape far more likely to emerge from a fluctuating diverse population of creative individuals attracted to the city as a means of prototyping their future life/work vectors than it is to come from pouring money into ill-advised exercises in cultural parochialism.

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