Creative juices fizz at Bucks New University

Students need to work across disciplines – and that is what’s happening in High Wycombe
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The Independent Online

‘‘I don’t teach advertising, I help develop ideas,” says Bruce Sinclair, principal lecturer at the Bucks New University Advertising School. “An important part of that is getting students to think laterally, beyond their own discipline, but you can’t just throw an Edward de Bono book at them.”

To illustrate this style of thinking, Sinclair quotes the time De Bono was asked by the Foreign Office to design an advertisement for how to solve the Middle East crisis. He listened to arguments from all sides, then said the solution lay in Marmite. “His reasoning,” laughs Sinclair, “was that if your diet is deficient in zinc it makes you bad-tempered and warlike. We get most of our zinc from the yeast in bread. But in the Middle East, they eat unleavened bread, so Marmite, which is a yeast product, could change their temperaments.”

Sinclair and his colleagues running the creative MAs at Bucks, the niche university in High Wycombe, have always aimed to expose students to as broad a knowledge of the creative industries as possible. But next year they will take this approach a big step further with the Finishing School – a name coined to represent a concept, not an actual programme, says Sinclair. Students from different creative backgrounds, doing a variety of MAs, will be brought together to work in groups on the same brief. This way, instead of being limited to the subject of their MA, they will learn about – and try working in – a range of disciplines such as advertising, music management, video and production and computer design. It is an exercise in cross-fertilisation. “We aim to disrupt predictable approaches to problem-solving, innovation and creativity and give students the skills to be creative in a whole range of subjects,” says Sinclair.

Teresa Moore, who runs the music and entertainment management MA, sees the Finishing School as an important way of further equipping students to meet the needs of industry. “We already have key guest speakers from the industry – for example, I have a global media lawyer who dealt with Michael Jackson – and this is important because the industry is changing and reshaping all the time,” she says. “The creative sector no longer has silos of isolated activities. When an agency is producing an advertisement, it wants someone who understands how to bring together design, copywriting, music, marketing and who can think all around this process.”

Bucks New already has strong relationships with industry, and students do regular projects and placements. But Stephen Partridge, the manager of the production department, shares the conviction of Sinclair and Moore that the Finishing School will make his students even more employable. Impressive, considering graduates are working in agencies worldwide. Their time will be reorganised on the MAs, enabling students to work together on briefs from industry and to be tutored together, as well as to devote time to their separate studies.

“I listen to industry to understand the needs and to identify gaps in the market,” says Partridge. “I hear over and over that students don’t have enough broad knowledge. So, on the Finishing School, we will increase the opportunities for students to learn, for instance, to help a marketing person understand the language of a film-maker. I’m talking with Sennheiser about how to bring students together on a live music event involving marketing, branding and so on.”

Waqar Riaz, strategist at the global creative agency Rapp, thinks the Finishing School can only enhance an MA he already found very valuable. He worked as a copywriter at JWT, moved to a job in Bahrain, then returned to Britain. In spite of his impressive range of experience, he still found it difficult to get employment, so he signed up for a Masters at Manchester Metropolitan University. “I left after three months because I wasn’t getting what I wanted,” he says. He heard about the Bucks MA in advertising and won a place |on it.

“After 25 days, I began work on a project with the agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and won a placement there. The connections with industry are a very valuable part of the course. This was how I met Ian Haworth, the global chief creative officer of Rapp, and I’ve found this agency has the same spirit as the Bucks MA. They want you skilled up to react to changing times and ideas, and at Bucks they’re always thinking how to push that approach further.”