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How are creative media educators preparing global graduates?

“The world needs more and more creative people with knowledge in all the creative areas,” says Po Ingvarsson of Your Study Advisor in Sweden, an education agent who specialises in placing his clients on “creative media” programmes.

Students seek “a hands-on and intensive education” at New York Film Academy. Photo: NYFA.Students seek “a hands-on and intensive education” at New York Film Academy. Photo: NYFA.

“If you realise the growth of our jobs in our areas, it far outstretches the others. And do we really want a million people who can do accounting?”

The term spans all main forms of media education and training: sound engineering, film production and editing, TV, broadcast, animation, gaming and even app development.

“The creative industry is a global market and the students that get this also see the point in studying internationally”

“The creative industry is a global market and the students that get this also see the point in studying internationally,” emphasises Ingvarsson. Institutions that can deliver targeted media courses and ensure an education that, in Ingvarsson’s words, means his students will be “headhunted directly”, are seeing enrolments skyrocket.

At Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada, the number of new students at the college’s School of Media and Design has tripled since 2008.

“We have definitely seen an increase in demand over the past five years from international students,” says marketing manager Nadia Ramseier.

The college offers 24 programmes that explore every facet of the creative arts, as well as communications. Popular courses include Interactive Media Design and Animation, as well as a Bachelor of Interior Design.

The practicality of education programming is a point that comes up again and again; industry-embedded training is a big selling point.

“Our staff say, ‘I’m a film maker’, for example. They define themselves by the industry first, and then as a teacher,” relates John Crick, director of international student recruitment at SAE Institute, a global provider specialising in creative media programmes and owned by Navitas.

SAE Institute offers bachelor’s and diploma programmes in Animation & VFX; Audio Production; Film Production; Games Programming; Web & Mobile App Development and Music Business.

At its London base, learning happens inside studios or behind mixing desks, with very few traditional classrooms in the facility.

Paul Walker, director, industry engagement, explains that SAE understands perfectly students’ ambitions to graduate “career-ready”, yet with an undergraduate degree – perhaps to satisfy parents too. It now offers a two-year degree, with students forgoing a summer holiday and working to a three-trimester schedule.

Rather than looking to rankings, Crick says SAE points to alumni achievements as its gold standard, citing various Oscar winners and Ricky Damian, who worked on Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, as current exemplars.

“Most education institutions, to be fair, are ‘shooting behind the duck’ and they’re always trying to keep up with industry”

With such successful alumni, the opportunities for meaningful work experience are so much better, observes Crick.

And Walker weighs in: “It’s the practical nature of our degrees that help a lot… Most education institutions, to be fair, are ‘shooting behind the duck’ and they’re always trying to keep up with industry.”

He cites the example of a sudden switch in industry to a new film editing software, which the BBC and Universal Studios adopted overnight. “We were able to reflect that almost instantly,” he says.

Walker is emphatic on the relevance of practical, industry-linked education for students keen to pay off the cost of their higher education and the rise of the industries that SAE prepares its students to work in.

“India has proven to be a very good market for us,” he says, “and also Nigeria, because it’s got its own film industry.”

He also points to the value of gaming and its explosion in Asia, noting that some stakeholders estimate the industry will increase by 40% in the next three years. “This will be massive.”

In Australia, RMIT University in Melbourne has also capitalised on the rise of the gaming industry and it launched a Masters of Games, Animation and Interactive Media (MAGI) last year, a reworking of its Master of Creative Media.

Dean of the school, professor Martyn Hook, acknowledges, “With the new programme, we are engaging far more deeply with practice-based, project-based and studio-based teaching in order to expose students to a much more alive and real way of understanding and learning.”

RMIT Hanmi 2

Photo: RMIT.

He also vaunts the industry connections which create professional opportunities for their students, “both in Melbourne and overseas”.

The programme is marketed internationally and the international student cohort currently stands at 40%, mainly from Southeast Asia, China and South America, as well as some from Scandinavia.

Deputy dean of design, games and interaction, associate professor Laurene Vaughan, emphasises a connection to two leading research centres and a practical approach to study: “Studio practice is the teaching model for the programme and this ensures that just as students are extending their knowledge about their area, they are also becoming better makers at the same time.”

Fellow Australian institution, Murdoch University, also provides a good example of real-world teaching for creative media disciplines when profiling its academic and lecturer, Simon Allen, who teaches in the School of Arts. The school offers double majors so students can select two distinct specialisms across a range of creative arts courses.

Allen has 20+ years’ experience in the film and games industry, having worked on five Academy award-winning animated feature films, and with the world’s best animators and innovators at Disney/Pixar, Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital and George Lucas’s LucasArts.

Australia is confident in its reputation across creative industry sectors, with Austrade publicising its screen production and “screen services” credentials (such as VFX) as well as its high stakes involvement in the digital games sector. Yet Sweden, the UK and the US also have pedigrees of which they are proud.

At the UK’s City University London, senior international officer, Martin Maule, points out that the UK’s reputation for an “innovative, dynamic and world leading media sector”, combined with the university’s entrenched reputation in the field, is driving consistent growth in international applications for its journalism offer.

“The students I am meeting are interested in many different streams of the media, from working with governments through to creative new media startup projects”

“The students I am meeting are interested in many different streams of the media, from working with governments through to creative new media startup projects,” he observes.

And in the US, the filmmaking industry is world-renowned. This results in international applications at some of the country’s film schools without any marketing activity at all. Jennifer D. Scott, admissions specialist at Colorado Film School at the Community College of Aurora in Denver, says that international students arrive organically “due to hearing about us in The Hollywood Reporter”.

However, at New York Film Academy, the approach to internationalising the classroom is much more advanced, with over 50% of the student intake representing 105 countries. To achieve this sort of diversity, education agents are an essential part of recruitment, explains Jack Newman, director of outreach and development.

Interestingly, Newman can see political rapprochements impacting on international applications, which otherwise remain consistent and diverse. He explains, “With the recent rapprochement between the US and Iran and Cuba, we have begun to see an influx of applications from Iran and Cuba. NYFA will be offering workshops in Havana and in Tehran in 2016.”

He acknowledges that “there have been challenges” from the recent currency devaluations in the CIS region, Brazil, and South Africa, but applications are holding up.

Newman is confident that demand for filmmaking – and more widely, this sphere of education – will continue to increase, as students seek “a hands-on and intensive education”.

Crick at SAE is in absolute agreement. He explains that only certain education agencies are oriented to counsel students about the value of creative media programmes – those who “can see a future in it”.

“That’s a big part of it, if you realise the growth of our jobs in our areas, it far outstretches the others. And do we really want a million people who can do accounting?”

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