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A major new report into the skills required by the UK's high-tech creative industries highlights a worrying blind spot both in UK students' awareness of the exciting career opportunities they offer, and in the education system which is failing to prepare them for these high-growth areas.

The independent report is authored by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope, working with Nesta in collaboration with Skillset and with support from e-skills UK. It was asked for by Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

For the first time, it maps the needs of the UK's video games and visual effects (VFX) industries against the skills being taught to meet these needs. Today's final report calls for major changes to the education system to transform the UK into the best source of talent in the world for high-tech creative industries such as video games and visual effects.

The findings reveal a mismatch between the growth opportunity afforded by these industries and awareness of the UK's excellence in them. The report's authors suggest that if the UK's video games industry overcomes existing barriers to growth and keeps up with its global competitors, it stands to generate £1 billion more sales by 2014. And if the UK's visual effects sector continues to expand at the rates experienced in recent years, it could reach £610 million in revenues by the same year.[i]

Yet the findings also show a lack of awareness that the UK is at the centre of these exciting industries. Only 3% of young people and 21% of art, ICT, maths and physics/science teachers interviewed know that top-selling video games such as 'Grand Theft Auto' and 'SingStar' were developed in the UK. Similarly, only 9% of young people and less than a third of teachers surveyed know that the visual effects for blockbuster films 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' and 'Inception' were created in the UK.[ii]

Ian Livingstone, Life President of Eidos, says: 'Video games production plays to the UK's twin strengths of creativity and high-technology and ticks all the boxes for the digital economy. But despite young people being passionate about video games, they are unaware that games such as 'Grand Theft Auto' and 'SingStar' were developed in the UK and unaware of the career opportunities in the UK. We need to transform young people's passion to play video games into a desire to make them, whilst equipping them with the right skills for the industry. In the brave new online world, a second 'golden age' for the UK games industry beckons. It's an opportunity which shouldn't be missed.'

The report also reveals that the education system is not equipping students with the skills needed by industry. Despite physics being vital to gaining employment in these industries, less than 5% of UK art, ICT, maths and physics/science teachers surveyed think that physics is one of the most important subjects to study for a career in video game development or visual effects. Furthermore, the research suggests that most ICT teachers lack the capacity to equip young people with the programming skills that these industries require. Only one in five ICT teachers surveyed (22%) describes themselves as 'good' (very + fairly) at creating or modifying basic computer programmes and this drops to less than one in ten, or 8%, for advanced computer programmes.[iii]

The problems continue in universities. The research found that the majority of video games courses taught at universities are not producing industry-ready graduates. Only one quarter teach maths, and of the 1585 graduates from 141 'specialist' video games courses in 2009, only 12% got a job within 6 months. Graduates from the nine industry-accredited[iv] courses are almost three times as likely to gain employment as those from non-accredited courses. Graduates from visual effects courses do not fare much better: only around 15% of them find employment in the film and visual effects industry within 6 months of graduating.

Alex Hope, Managing Director of Double Negative, says: 'Visual effects is perhaps the fastest growing area of the film industry and the UK has established itself as a global centre; the visual effects work on three of the five films nominated for this year's VFX Oscar were largely or in part completed in the UK. Yet growth in the UK is being held back by a lack of the people with the right skills. We need people with the specialist skills, computer science, physics, maths and art on which our industry relies. They are crucial not just to our industry but increasingly to the other high-tech creative industries. We need to take a fresh look at the skills being taught throughout the education pipeline and ensure students are being prepared for industry and we have the talent available to meet the demand.'

The report argues that if the UK is to ensure these industries thrive in the future, urgent changes must be made to the education system to ensure that children are aware of the job opportunities offered by these industries and that they are being taught the right skills to succeed in them.

Key recommendations of the report are:

  • Computer science must be part of the school national curriculum. The current curriculum includes ICT, but the authors of the report argue that ICT, with its focus on every day applications such as word processing, does not teach the valuable computer programming knowledge that is vital to high-tech industries such as video games and visual effects.
  • Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) should include industry-accredited specialist courses in video games and visual effects in their list of 'Strategically Important and Vulnerable' subjects that merit targeted funding. Graduates from accredited courses are almost three times as likely to gain employment as those from non-accredited courses. With such a confusing range of courses and low-level awareness of the skills needed for careers in these industries, the authors argue that even the best courses need some targeted support, as long as it is matched by a commitment from industry, such as in the form of industrial scholarships to the very brightest students on these courses.
  • Young people must be given more opportunity to study art and technology together.

The key to the success of our high-tech creative industries is in their fusion of technology and creative skills, yet this combination is not encouraged in the current education system. The report calls for art to be included in the English Baccalaureate - just as it is in the highly regarded example of the International Baccalaureate - as well as computer science. It also calls for schools to promote art-tech crossover and work-based learning through school clubs.

Hasan Bakhshi, Director of Creative Industries in NESTA's Policy & Research Unit, says: 'The video games and visual effects industries are a phenomenal success story for the UK, but in the face of increasing competition from overseas, we can't afford to fall asleep at the wheel. The Review has shown us that we must act now to equip young people with the technical and creative skills to continue this legacy and grow this multi billion pound sector in the UK.' 

Stewart Till, Chair of Skillset, says: 'We are delighted that the report reinforces Skillset's long-held view that the best way to maintain the UK games and visual effects industries' world-class position is to better align education provision with the needs of employers. Over the past 5 years, Skillset has been doing just that with the help of the games sector, awarding the Skillset Tick to games courses that provide the most up-to-date, industry-relevant training available. Our new accreditation work in VFX has received enthusiastic support from key industry players, and we hope the Tick will soon be a recognised kitemark in that industry as well. We hope now to harnesses full industry support for the accredited courses that are working so hard to supply new talent to the industry "

- Ends -

Notes to editor:

For further information, case studies and to arrange interviews, please contact:

Rachel Grant: 020 7438 2600/ [email protected]
Ruth Attride: 020 7438 2609/ [email protected]k

About the report:

In July 2010 Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries asked Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope, working with Nesta and Skillset, to produce an Independent Review of Skills for the UK video games and visual effects industries.

Over the last 5 months, the research team has completed the biggest quantitative research study to date on skills in these industries, conducting 7 different research strands which covered children, parents, teachers, schools, colleges, universities, employers, employees and recruiters. The team has also spoken to over half of all video games and visual effects employers.

Based on this original evidence from schools, universities and industry, the Livingstone-Hope Review sets out a compelling plan for how the UK can be transformed into a world leader in games production and visual effects.

About the industries:

The UK's video games sector generates £2 billion in global sales. Worldwide, the video games market is projected to grow at an annual rate of 10.6% between 2010 and 2014 compared to an average of 6.6% for all media and entertainment markets. Helping UK games developers to capture new markets and ensuring that there are skilled young people to work in the sector will be critical to the UK capitalizing on this rapid expansion.

The UK is a centre of excellence for visual effects work and as such is a major draw for the US film studios. Visual effects is the fastest growing sector in the UK film industry with visual effects companies generating annual turnover of £376 million and employing more than 5,000 people. However, faced with a global skills shortage, access to top-flight talent is often cited as the only barrier to growth for UK visual effects companies.

About Nesta:

Nesta is the UK's foremost independent expert on how innovation can solve some of the country's major economic and social challenges. Its work is enabled by an endowment, funded by the National Lottery, and it operates at no cost to the government or taxpayer.

Nesta is a world leader in its field and carries out its work through a blend of experimental programmes, analytical research and investment in early-stage companies.

About Skillset

Skillset is the Sector Skills Council (SSC) for Creative Media, with responsibility for 60 per cent of the UK's Creative Industries. This comprises TV, film, radio, interactive media, animation, computer games, facilities, photo imaging, publishing, advertising and fashion and textiles. SSCs are licensed by the UK Government and by Ministers in the devolved administrations to tackle the skills and productivity challenges by sector. They are independent, UK-wide organisations, are employer-led, and actively involve trade unions, professional bodies and other stakeholders in the industry.

Supporting quote:

Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK, said: "A top priority for the computer games industry is better availability of the high level technical capabilities needed for games development roles. Indeed, as a nation, we need to prioritise work to encourage more talent into software development.

"e-skills UK has been working with employers and education to attract a healthy pipeline of talent with initiatives such as Computer Clubs for Girls, and our BigAmbition careers website. We have also developed a new Software Developer Apprenticeship programme which equips aspiring developers with the skills they need for successful careers. We will continue to work closely with industry, and our sister Sector Skills Council, Skillset, to ensure the gaming sector in the UK has the skills it needs to thrive."

Michael Rawlinson, Director General of UKIE said: "The UK has a heritage in developing video games that we can be very proud of. However, if we are to continue to produce world-class interactive entertainment we need to ensure that we have a world-class work force to produce it."

"One of UKIE's key goals is to promote a skills and education agenda which will ensure that the right people have the right skills to succeed in the games industry; promotes video games as a career; and introduces more games and technology-based learning into the UK's classrooms - improving engagement with children whilst educating them about the skills needed to produce the next big video game."

"UKIE is therefore fully supportive of the Livingstone-Hope skills review and looks forward to bringing together the interactive entertainment industry, the education sector and government to make the report's recommendations a reality."

[i] Source: The estimate for video games draws on the market size figures produced by Games Investor Consulting in NESTA (2008), "Raise the Game', NESTA: London and projections for the global video games industry in PwC (2010), 'Global Media and Entertainment Outlook 2010-2014'. London: PricewaterhouseCoopers.  The estimate for visual effects is based on projecting forward sales figures and growth rates taken from UK Screen (2010) 'The UK Facilities Sector', UK Screen: London.

[ii] Surveys conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA):

  • Young people survey:  564 UK 11-18 year olds interviewed from 16-23 September 2010 and 537 UK 11-18 year olds from 14-21 October 2010. Interviews conducted face-to-face and data weighted to the known population profile.
  • Teacher survey: 403 specialist teachers in four subjects (art, ICT, maths and physics/science) interviewed by telephone in a representative sample of UK primary and secondary schools from 15 October - 16 November 2010. Data were weighted to the known profile of UK primary and secondary schools.

[iii] Survey conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) : 403 specialist teachers in four subjects (art, ICT, maths and physics/science) interviewed by telephone in a representative sample of UK primary and secondary schools from  15 October - 16 November 2010. Data were weighted to the profile of UK primary and secondary schools.

[iv] Nine computer games degree courses have been accredited by industry and Skillset. Skillset's course accreditation scheme, devised in consultation with industry and education providers, recognises courses within the UK that provide exceptional standards of training. Rigorously assessed by industry professionals, these courses have gained the backing of over 50 companies from the UK games industry.