The value, relevance and sustainability of ‘craft skilling’ in Higher Education today

Alma Boyes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This Paper explores the questions; ‘How and why should we sustain a full and effective craft education in today’s fast paced digital society’ and ‘What is the value of tacit knowledge and craft skills.’ This research has relevance for craft and design educators, practitioners and students. Current research highlights the severe dilemma that craft subjects face in education in favour of STEM subjects. Craft is almost non existence in secondary education and subsequently there has been a catastrophic reduction in craft based courses in higher education over the last ten years. However this is in contradiction with research that highlights the UK as a world leader in craft. ‘Craft generates £3.4bn for the economy. 150,000 people are employed in businesses driven by craft skills’ (Crafts Council manifesto, Nov 2014). This decline in craft education paradoxically comes at a time when there is a public resurgence of the phenomena of making as seen in the popular BBC 2 productions ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’, ’The Big Painting Challenge’ the soon to be filmed ‘Great British Pottery Throw Down’ and the new ’Making’ series on BBC 4. These programmes form part of a wider ethos regarding making as a healthier way of life and the notion of the benefits of slow thinking in contrast to the quick fix of ‘the digital world’. Research has identified concrete links between craft making and health and wellbeing. (Yair 2011, Riley 2008 & Burt et al 2012). Craft teaching in Higher Education can appear to be an ‘expensive luxury’ with its need for fully equipped workshops, technical support and numbers restrictions to comply with ever increasing health and safety regulations. However ‘hands on’ investigation into materials and the technologies of making through manipulation, experimentation and the innovative application of materials to processes can lead to the invention of new materials, products and objects that challenge precedents and provoke debate. In order to sustain this ‘hands on’ strategy it is essential to firstly articulate how students learn through this approach to learning and how this can produce highly skilled, versatile practitioners, researchers and innovators holding a wide range of transferable skills. The thrust of the teaching, learning and research in design and craft at The University of Brighton is embedded in experiential learning, and knowledge gained through tacit learning. This paper draws on case studies and findings from three research projects. The first two were funded by the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Through Design ‘Teaching and Learning through Practice’ and‘ Observational Learning through Professional Practice’ (Boyes et al 2008 & 2010) and the latter, ‘In the Hand’ (2012) was awarded an Art Design Media Teaching Fellowship. Research methods used were primarily qualitative examining data gathered by observation, questioners, interviews and analysis of work produced. Primary findings were that experiential learning through the involvement and interaction with the materials, processes and handling artefacts were key to success in problem solving, independent thinking, self confidence and expertise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalMaking Futures Journal
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

Authored by Alma Boyes and originally published by Plymouth College of Art


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