It helps to have more strings to your bow

Earlier this week CRAC published a new research paper entitled It helps to have more strings to your bow and co-written by Robin Mellors-Bourne and I. In it we explore the careers of dance and drama graduates and look at how their post-graduation life links to their time studying. Hopefully this piece will be of interest to those working in arts and performance related fields, but we also think that there are some bigger issues that the research sheds light on. The including thinking about how we define graduate success and whether this ultimately means something more than having a steady job and a high salary.

The headline findings all relate to the experience of performance and production graduates who studied at one of the institutions organised through the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama. The research shows that graduates of these institutions go on to a wide range of different careers, with almost 90% maintaining a connection to the artform they studied (through paid or unpaid activity). The career and work-life patterns described by the graduates are often highly complex, typically involving portfolio careers and precarious working. However, 4 out of 5 feel they have built a good career since they graduated (and the same proportion that their course contributed positively to this). These graduates are in other word, highly satisfied with their careers. Yet many do not report high salaries or security of employment.

These findings raise challenges for the conventional discourse of ‘graduate success’. Many policy driven definitions focus on salary, security of employment and progression, yet there is rarely any attempt to measure whether the graduates themselves feel that they are successful or satisfied with their careers. In this report we present a new, holistic model of graduate success which recognises that success is complex and contextual. We asked graduates about their artistic engagement, wellbeing and ability to make a difference in their communities, as well as about their earnings. Over 80% of graduates have shared knowledge of their subject with other people or communities and over three quarters feel they made a positive contribution to their local community.

The report contains a lot more detail on the findings and on our model of graduate success. I hope that people will find it interesting and that it will help to spark a more fundamental debate about what we mean by graduate success.

Mellors-Bourne, R. & Hooley, T. (2020). ‘It helps to have more strings to your bow’. Exploring the careers and success of graduates of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama. Cambridge: CRAC.

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