Report Calls For More Focus On VFX and Gaming

A new report into the skills required by the UK’;s creative industries, such as VFX and gaming, highlights a blind spot both in UK students’; awareness of the exciting career opportunities they offer, and in the education system that is failing to prepare them.

The report, requested by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, was authored by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope, who worked with independent innovation agency NESTA, Skillset and e-skills UK. It 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 report’;s findings reveal a mismatch between the opportunity afforded by these industries and awareness of the UK’;s excellence in them. It suggests that if the UK’;s video games industry overcomes 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 VFX sector continues to expand at the rates experienced in recent years, it could reach £610 million revenues by the same year.

The problem, however, is that there is 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.

Ian Livingstone, Life President of Eidos, commented: “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 we need to transform young people’;s passion to play video games into a desire to make them, whilst also equipping them with the right skills for the industry. It’;s an opportunity which shouldn’;t be missed.”

The report points its finger at the education system. 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 at creating or modifying basic computer programmes and this drops to less than one in ten, or 8%, for advanced computer programmes.

The problems continue in universities, claims the report. The research found that most 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 nine industry-accredited  courses are almost three times as likely to gain employment as those on non-accredited courses. Graduates from VFX courses do not fare much better: only around 15% find employment in film/vfx 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. 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 to the other high-tech creative industries.”

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

Computer science must be part of the school curriculum.

Higher Education Funding Council for England 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. This should be matched by a commitment from industry perhaps in the form of industrial scholarships to the brightest students.

Young people must be given more opportunity to study art and technology together, a combination not encouraged in the current education system. Schools should promote art-tech crossover and work-based learning via 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 skills to grow this multi billion pound sector in the UK.”

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