With an increasing number of students opting to pursue careers in the arts, tertiary institutions are increasingly offering more and more arts programs.
With that comes increased opportunities for students to study and develop their arts skills, and they can expect to have a more rewarding career path.
According to research published in the Australian Journal of Education, there are now approximately 5,000 arts and humanities students studying at Australian tertiary schools, with more than 40 per cent of students receiving an arts degree.
This study by Australian Institute of Education and Research, which looked at the number of arts and non-arts degrees awarded by Australia’s tertiary and non‐tertiary education systems, found that while more than half of all arts degrees are awarded to students who are at least 21 years old, only a quarter of tertiary students are in arts and arts degrees.
This has lead to the notion that there is an “art bubble”, where many students who attend higher education are not in arts degrees and thus have no interest in pursuing careers in art.
“There’s a lack of focus on arts education and it’s not being reflected in the industry,” says Dr. Helen Fisher, an associate professor in the department of arts at the University of Western Australia.
“If you’re not doing arts, there’s no point in going to university.”
Dr. Fisher says it’s difficult to find students who have the ability to pursue an arts education.
“The only way you can get a university degree is if you are going to take arts and sciences courses.
The vast majority of students in arts studies are in studies that are in the physical sciences, and that’s where you will get a bachelor of arts degree,” she says.
Dr. Sarah Walker, a professor in art education at the National University of Ireland, Galway, has also said that many students are still in art school and are not getting a degree.
“They’re not pursuing it in the way that they should,” she explains.
“So many of them are in a very artsy mindset, so they’re not learning how to appreciate the art, or the art of painting or drawing or sculpture or music.”
Dr Walker adds that it’s also difficult for students who do not have the money to travel to countries where there is more arts education available to study.
“That can mean they’re at home or they’re in a rural area,” she points out.
“They may be able to attend a community art and design course or an art and technology course, but it’s really not that useful to them.”
Dr Fisher says the number one problem with the arts and crafts industry is that most students in tertiary arts programs do not receive an arts or science degree.
While there are more arts and science students than arts and art programs, Dr. Walker says that is not necessarily a problem for the arts sector.
“It’s really quite common that they don’t graduate because they have a degree, and I think it’s an issue for the industry, too,” she said.
Dr Walker says there are some universities that offer arts and craft courses in lieu of arts degrees, but that is limited to some of their higher education programs.
“What’s really important for them to do is to look at how they can give arts and technology programs, and to be flexible, to give arts programs to students with the same degree level,” she added.
While many students attend higher levels of art, many of those students are not pursuing a career in the field.
“Students who go into higher education for arts studies don’t actually end up doing art,” Dr. Fisher said.
“I think that’s really disappointing because a lot of people in the sector have been very proud of their degree and their work, and some of those people might not be interested in pursuing a future in art.”
According to a recent report by the Australian Research Council, art and creative industries employ more than 200,000 Australians, and employ over 10,000 students annually.