endangered: the photography degree

photography course cuts

Source Magazine recently published an article discussing the likelihood of photography course cuts throughout the UK.

Spending cuts: the coalition government announce teaching grants for undergraduate courses in arts and humanities will be axed.

Art courses such as photography are under threat of extermination as they are unable to run without supportive government teaching grants. Many institutions now face a dilemma over which courses to discontinue and which to keep. In addition to the government cuts, student course fees will rise in 2012, leaving many potential students unable to afford attending university. It all spells a rather difficult time ahead for academic institutions.

Twenty years ago, only a handful of photography courses were available, along with a dozen or so HNDs. Today the UK photography student can choose between over 100 photography BAs, FdAs and top-up degrees, with almost every UK university offering a photography based course. Every year, thousands of students enter the photography industry armed with their Canons and Leicas, ready to be next Gursky, Bradt or Bailey.

While I believe in formal education and the wide-reaching skills (application, motivation, organisation) education can provide, I don’t believe academic education is vital to the wannabe fine art photographer. Many successful photographers have no formal qualifications in photography and are inspiring examples of how diverse academic and working backgrounds can add to artistic expression. I’m a great believer in the self-taught and the talented has always, and will always, break through; degree or no degree.

In an already overflowing pool of fine art and commercial photographers, does it really matter if the photography industry is spared a generation or two of further input?


  1. I believe in both, you have to have some formal training, to learn how to do certain things in photography. Not everyone can self teach themselves how to use a camera and to become an artist.

    Now I am school taught but I am also self taught, has I am constantly reading how to do new things, and practicing new ways to do something.

    Most famous photographers, and anyone who works for a magazine will have a degree of some sort in photography. Its almost a requirement to work for them.

    I am sorry that they are going to cut the arts out of the schools over in the UK, they are slowly doing that in the States, the first places they are doing it is in grade school, and the in high school. College is actually still going strong.

  2. Many thanks for your comment; you’ve made an important point – proven academic requirements are advised career-wise for anyone wishing to enter the photography industry and are certainly beneficial for those unable to self-teach.

    I would say that motivated individuals will always find a way to enter an industry they’re desperate to get into; we may soon see fine art photographer wannabes look for alternative avenues of education such as volunteer and work experience placements; there’s a lot to be said for practical experience over paper grades.

    My frustrations and sympathies are perhaps directed more to the individuals who may wish to pursue a career in the photography industry but not necessarily as photographers such as writers, studio assistants, curators, administrators – those whose education and promise will suffer without the option of attending a straight photography degree.

    Like yourself, I come from both backgrounds with academic and self-taught skills – I’m in both boats and feel it would be naive to support one method of learning over another; it’s each to their own.

    I believe it says more about the UK government’s inability to appreciate the importance of the arts as they continue to undervalue arts and humanities – I certainly foresee a backlash in terms of student attendance numbers.

    Hopefully, as in the States, college numbers will continue to stay strong here in the UK and even be improved upon, quality college photography courses could be needed to help mediate the gap in demand.

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