UK fashion schools top global rankings, but are their students ready for work?

6097The BA press fashion show at Central Saint Martins (CSM) attracts leading fashion journalists, buyers and employers, and this year’s glittering event was no exception. In the glamorous atrium of the art college, now part of the University of the Arts London, models showed the work of 40 undergraduate students.

But as guests left the show, they were met with a silent demonstration by almost 100 other students whose collections had not been chosen for the catwalk. “They were standing in silence, modelling their own designs or they had got friends to do it. There was amazing talent there and when you think how much they had spent on course fees and on their collections you can understand why they were so disappointed not to get shown,” says Sarah Mower, fashion journalist and ambassador for emerging talent at the British Fashion Council. It can cost students £10,000 to prepare an MA collection, she says.

“I think the problem comes from the college accepting too many people on the course,” says graduate Dilara Findikoglu, who came up with the idea for the demonstration. “There used to be 20 to 40 and now it’s 120. Throughout the year everyone works really hard and puts equal love and effort into their collection and it is very upsetting not to see your name on the list.”

Despite this, according to a new global ranking of fashion schools, CSM is the best in the world. The ranking, produced by the Business of Fashion, a website for the creative industries, measures schools by global impact, learning experience and long-term value. The UK does exceptionally well, with CSM, which produced Stella McCartney, Sarah Burton and John Galliano, top for undergraduate programmes. The Royal College of Art, where alumni include Christopher Bailey, Holly Fulton and Erdem, is best in the world for graduate courses. Meanwhile, Kingston University, London, is rated third for its undergraduate fashion courses and the London College of Fashion fourth for graduate programmes.

But an accompanying survey of more than 4,000 fashion students and recent graduates uncovers simmering discontent – particularly about how well fashion schools prepare students for employment. CSM was well ahead in the undergraduate table for global influence, but has a long way to go when it comes to learning experience and long-term value, says Imran Amed, founder of Business of Fashion. “Saint Martins is not alone; students from most schools wanted greater exposure to employers and more preparedness for working in the industry.”

A recent CSM graduate commented in the survey: “It’s one of the most prestigious schools in the world when it comes to fashion and just that in itself opened a lot of doors for me. There is a lot of controversy around the training at CSM, though – like the fact that we didn’t have one single technical class or business course throughout our BA. If you want to have that, you are told, you can go somewhere else.”

Another respondent said: “Brilliant school, brilliant exposure, zero help afterwards. Based on your own intuitions to get a job, no agencies or industry links provided.”

University for the Creative Arts Epsom was fourth highest for student satisfaction with the quality of the lecturers, but there were complaints about finding work afterwards. “Career paths were not adequately explained,” said one graduate.


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