30,000 more design graduates by 2019: that’s need, not supply

The region will need “at least” 30,000 new design graduates by 2019, a ninefold increase on the current situation – and right now it’s not obvious where they are coming from

That’s the headline conclusion from the MENA Design Education Outlook, a study of design education that focuses on six key design markets – Qatar, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait as well as UAE – rather than MENA in full.

The report was produced by Monitor Deloitte for the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) and Dubai Design District (d3).

“Harnessing the true potential of design should be firmly on the agenda of governments across the region”

Last year’s MENA Design Outlook Study, also published by DDFC, was distinctly bullish about the design industry in the region. The sector was forecast to grow at an annual rate of six percent over the next five years, around twice as fast as the design business globally.

That would value the Middle East design industry at $55 billion, giving it a 5.2 percent share of the global market for design in 2019; the UAE, the largest market for market in the MENA region, will contribute fully $35.9bn of the 2019 total.

Right now a large part of the design talent in the region is obviously imported, sometimes from other Arabic countries but noticeably from Western economies and India. There’s a strong tradition of design education and vocational opportunities in those areas, and it’s possible that too many design graduates are emerging from their production lines – which for the present is to the region’s advantage.

The Monitor Deloitte report highlights the shortfall in local vocational education for design industries, but it also emphasises the need for top-level promotion of the value of design in the first place – “harnessing the true potential of design should be firmly on the agenda of governments across the MENA region”.

Recommendations

The report lists several recommendations, few of which are contentious:

  • A National Design Strategy with strong linkages to design research and education
  • Multiple pathways to education
  • Vocational education training
  • Collaboration between industry and academia
  • Multidisciplinary programs enabling designers to develop broad skills in areas like management and business economics
  • “World-class” infrastructure to support the development and growth of designers
  • Funding for skills development

As for current provision, the report says there’s an overemphasis on architecture and interior design, particularly in the GCC countries because of the amount of construction there. That needs to be balanced with more attention to design education offerings in Industrial and Product Design, Fashion Design and “emerging design concepts such as Experiential, Culinary and Social Design”.

There are currently few design courses in these areas. Only Egypt and Jordan of the six countries studied offer Industrial and product design degrees, for instance.

Scope

It’s interesting that the Design Education Outlook Study takes a broad view of design – “design provides businesses with opportunities to increase productivity and create value in products and services, which is particularly relevant in the face of intensifying international competition … Companies that invest in their design capability and develop a reputation for innovation can avoid competing on price alone”.

By contrast, the previous MENA Design Outlook Study in fact highlighted the predominance of fashion in the sector – by far the largest contributor, with fully 69 percent of the sector’s current market value. What’s more, fashion is forecast to grow at a rate higher than that of the MENA design sector as a whole (6.1 percent until 2017, subsequently at 7.5 percent until 2019).

It’s arguable that all design is good, but it’s difficult to see how more fashion houses (and already fashion represents by a long way the majority of d3’s tenants) contributes to core benefits like increasing productivity and creating competiveness.

Predictably enough the report’s conclusion is that “the anticipated growth in the design sector over the next few years represents both a challenge and an opportunity for educators to adopt long term policies aimed at enhancing the relevance of design education to the design industry, and increasing the number and diversity of design graduates from the region”.

Practicalities

Dr Amina Al Rustamani, chair of DDFC said: “Ultimately, we hope that the study will help educators and policymakers alike to identify industry trends and support them in developing curriculums, courses and policies to nurture the talent pool in the region.”

In fact the report probably begs some broader questions:

  • Can the school curriculum be broadened to give youngsters early exposure to the principles, values and sheer fun of design?
  • Can the employment conditions and visa systems be varied to allow experimentation, shared workspaces and low-cost access to facilities for designers who are just starting out?
  • Does the threat of a quota system like Emiratisation help or hinder the development of the industry?
  • Are the existing educational establishments sufficiently motivated to provide new courses, or will government dictat be required?
  • If a massive increase in graduates is required, will that have to be provided by a massive increase in teaching staff from overseas? And what implications does that have for the evolution of a local design aesthetic?
  • Is there a local appetite for the kind of ‘social design’ championed by the report (this apparently means design with that is environmentally responsible and socially aware design)?
  • Is it useful to treat the region as a single coherent market? Or are there simply too many differences between the six countries covered? So the UAE has the largest share of the market and the majority of educational establishments with design-relevant courses, but how relevant is that to the situation in say Egypt or Jordan where very different financial and other constraints apply?

And:

  • Assuming the numbers are correct, just how realistic is it to expect a ninefold increase in design graduates in the region within five years? Or are we just anticipating a ninefold increase in graduates imported from elsewhere?

The report is available for download here.

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