Are universities failing Super Mario?


Emma Kinnaird

A report written for the Creative Industries minister, Ed Vaizey, has suggested that schools and universities are failing to prepare graduates for jobs in the visual effects and video game industries.

The report, entitled ‘Next Gen: Transforming the UK into the world’s leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries’, was undertaken by Ian Livingstone, life president of games company Eidos, and Alex Hope, managing director of visual effects firm Double Negative.

The report aimed to review the skills required for the UK’s video games and visual effects industries, and to make recommendations for how these skills could be encouraged.

The report outlined concerns for the future of the industries, stating: “In just two years, it seems the UK’s video games industry has dipped from third to sixth place in the global development rankings. Meanwhile, the visual effects industry, though still enjoying very rapid growth, is having to source talent from overseas because of skills shortages at home.”

Researchers for the report from Nesta, a company promoting innovation in the UK, found that less than a third of teachers and lecturers polled were aware of the prominence of British technology in these industries.

Figures on the Nesta company website state: “At over £2 billion in global sales, the UK’s video games sector is bigger than either its film or music industries, and visual effects, the fastest growing component of the UK’s film industry, grew at an explosive 16.8 percent between 2006 and 2008.” Visual effects for films such as Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Inception were created in the UK.

Livingstone and Hope stated in the report: “We felt that the education system was not meeting the needs of our industries.” They proposed possible improvements, saying that they “have set out a blueprint for change, and look forward to working with government, educators and industry to make it happen.”

The report further criticised “poor university courses” for failing to provide the skills needed for a career in the video games and visual effects industries. Torsten Reil, CEO of the Oxford-based games technology company NaturalMotion, stated: “It is true that British universities are not producing enough graduates with core skills such as maths and science.” He went on to say that although “these areas are specifically relevant for software development” the industry requires “general analytical thinking more than pure maths and science”.

Rob Donald, a spokesman for the company, praised Oxford University for providing “exactly the right sort of people that we need”. Reil outlined why the company was so interested in Oxford graduates: “We need people who can think critically, analyse and understand data and patterns quickly, and who have a strong drive to do well. Oxford students are intelligent. They’ve had to prove that just to win a place at the university. In such a fast-changing industry, that’s essential.” He said: “In general, Oxford prepares students extremely well for the industry.”

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