The past five years has been a period of expansion all round, with enrolments almost double what they were a decade ago. Demand is increasing: applications rose 14 per cent year-on-year in the 2021 cycle.
Yet the student community remains relatively small, at about 2,000 undergraduates. University life is based on the Blenheim Walk campus (a ten-minute walk from the centre of Leeds), which has studios for film, music and photography as well as a 230-seat auditorium, enhanced fashion design studios and a large specialist arts library. At Vernon Street, the original base in the city centre, further education courses are taught.
Professional-standard equipment includes large-format digital printers, 3D scanners and industrial-grade machinery for working with wood, metal and plastics. Acoustically insulated sound booths can be used to create radio or television advertisements.
Students appear to like what they see. In our analysis of the latest National Student Survey, published in summer 2022, Leeds Arts has risen an impressive 63 places to rank 35th for satisfaction with teaching quality — returning to the top third of universities in the country for this measure. Only two years ago it was in the top 20, until the pandemic hit student satisfaction rates hard. As the university tells us: “The dominant, social mode of learning is hugely important in creative subjects and this cannot be replicated remotely.”
Now that in-person teaching has returned, the university — up 44 places to rank 67= for student satisfaction with the wider undergraduate experience — should be on track to continue to regain lost ground.
When it was still Leeds College of Art, the institution was rated silver in the Teaching Excellence Framework. The panel was impressed that a significant number of teaching staff were active artists and designers, enhancing the students’ exposure to the creative industries, and praised the level of support for mature students and those with disabilities.
The sculptors Henry Moore and Dame Barbara Hepworth, who were contemporaries, are among the institution’s long list of famous alumni. More recently, its former students Damien Hirst and Marcus Harvey were leading lights of the YBA (Young British Artists) scene. Guest speakers at the university’s Creative Networks events have included the artist and cartoonist David Shrigley, the designer Jimmy Choo and the late film-maker Jamal Edwards.
Skin — the lead singer of Skunk Anansie, DJ, fashion icon, actress and activist — first came to Leeds Arts as a guest speaker and became the university’s first chancellor in early 2021. She has a scholarship in her name: Skin’s Chancellor Scholarship, which awards £3,000 per year for three years to two UK students and one international student.
In our social inclusion survey, 92.9 per cent of students attended non-selective state schools, 9.5 per cent are from an ethnic minority and 41.6 per cent are the first in their immediate family to attend university. The university improves by 13 places to rank 51= in our overall social inclusion index.
Leeds Arts, our 2019 University of the Year for Student Retention, continues to keep its dropout rate low at 3.1 per cent — far better than the expected 8.4 per cent based on the academic and socio-economic backgrounds of its students. Its performance on completion rates earns a top-25 place in this section of our analysis.
Easter and summer schools are among activities aimed at widening participation at Leeds Arts University. There is also a free after-school art club, specialist workshops and taster sessions for learners of all ages. All students receive two £55 payments in their first year to help with the cost of materials, and an extra £75 in the third year. Bursaries add up to £1,100, paid in three instalments over three years to undergraduates whose family income is less than £25,000 a year. There is also a £500 scholarship, for the first year only, for those who progress from one of the university’s further education courses to a degree.
Students build their portfolios through paid external projects, forging industry links through live briefs and opportunities to show their work at trade fairs, studios and in galleries. Hyundai, AON and John Lewis are among the organisations that have awarded prizes and commissions to Leeds Arts students in recent years. Graduates can access university facilities and a support network and can also apply for funded studio and project spaces in Leeds. Graduate prospects are always a challenge for art and design specialisms. According to our analysis of the Graduate Outcomes survey, tracking those in highly skilled work or postgraduate study after 15 months, Leeds Arts has liftoff from the bottom of our table but remains in the bottom ten.
University accommodation is owned and managed privately: there are places for about 70 per cent of students who want to live in. If accommodation is full, the students’ union provides links to private rental companies around Leeds city centre. Buoyed by students from its four universities, Leeds offers a vibrant social scene.