UK Has Half of Top Fashion Universities, But Courses Criticized


The UK has been deemed the home of fashion education by media company Business of Fashion.

In the BoF’s list of the leading undergraduate and graduate fashion courses around the world, 5 of the top 10 are in the UK. Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, was the top undergraduate program and second in the list of graduate programs after the Royal College of Art. The school has produced names like Stella McCartney, Sarah Burton, and John Galliano.

Also in the top 20 are the University of Westminster, the London College of Fashion, Nottingham Trent University, and the University for the Creative Arts, writes Aftab Ali of the Independent. Five of the top 10 undergraduate programs were in the US, including Parsons The New School for Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The rankings were compiled for a new initiative, BoF Education, which aims to show students and entrepreneurs how the fashion industry works and how to advance their careers in the field. The organization took data from schools in North America, Europe, and Asia by surveying more than 4,000 students and alumni, as well as asking 88 professionals for opinions. Schools were graded on global influence, the quality of the learning experience, and the program’s long-term value through metrics such as graduation rates and employment opportunities.

John Elmes of the Times Higher Education quoted Imran Amed, founder and Chief Executive of the Business of Fashion, about the rankings’ purpose of helping students make informed decisions:

We hope that our global fashion school rankings will aid prospective students in making informed choices about pursuing higher education in fashion and act as a tool for universities and colleges to improve their education offerings.

Most students that were surveyed were satisfied, or very satisfied, with the teaching, library, study materials, workrooms, buildings, and campuses. They loved their teachers, but many were unsatisfied with career services, business training, internships, and sustainability training.

Fashion is an industry with more graduates than jobs, meaning that career services are especially vital. According to the CFDA and the Department of Education’s statistics, just 10% of the total job pool come from undergrad fashion programs each year.

The Central Saint Martins program was criticized by its students. For example, 40 students were chosen to model their designs on a catwalk, and 100 weren’t despite equal talent.

There have also been complaints about the practicality of the courses and how the program as a whole is not designed to prepare students with practical skills for realistic jobs in the fashion industry even as they learn to design. According to the original report by Imran Amed and Robin Mellery-Pratt for Business of Fashion, a recent graduate said that opinions are mixed:

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.

Liz Lightfoot of The Guardian quoted Sarah Mower, a fashion journalist and ambassador for emerging talent at the British Fashion Council, who described the flaws of fashion education in general:

A huge skills gap is opening up – pattern cutting has gone by the board in many colleges, while the design houses are crying out for skilled pattern cutters and pay good money. People come out having designed a collection but it is the technician who has sewn it.