More than 100 designers, educators and arts patrons have have signed an open letter backing a manifesto from the UK's Crafts Council and calling on the government to protect craft skills, as protestors try to save a degree course at one of Britain's leading arts universities.
The Crafts Council's Education Manifesto for Craft and Making aims to reinstate craft skills as a core part of the country's education curriculum and launched earlier this month at the House of Commons, as campaigners petition to save the Contemporary Crafts degree at Falmouth University.
According to research published last month, the crafts contribute more than £3 billion to the UK's economy – a figure far larger than experts had predicted.
"The UK is a world leader in craft. Craft generates £3.4 billion for the economy," said the Crafts Council in the manifesto. "Craft education matters. But it is at risk."
"Between 2007 and 2012 following changes in educational policies, student participation in craft-related GCSEs fell by 25 per cent. In higher education, craft courses fell by 46 per cent. This comes when elsewhere around the globe investment in creative education is rising," said the letter.
"We make five calls for change: put craft and making at the heart of education; build more routes into craft careers; bring the entrepreneurial attitude of makers into education; invest in craft skills throughout careers; and promote higher education and artistic and scientific research in craft."
The Crafts Council's manifesto lays out 22 specific action points for the government to support crafts in schools, higher education and other paths to employment.
These include forcing schools to include crafts occupations in their careers advice and guidance, changes in education policy and the way schools are judged by performance auditors OFSTED, and supporting the preservation of traditional craft skills.
A number of leading education courses for craft skills have faced closure over the past five years. Earlier this year Bucks New University in High Wycombe, northwest of London, closed its furniture design course, which focused partially on craft skills.
Last week, an online petition was launched to save the latest higher education crafts course to be threatened with closure – the Contemporary Crafts degree at Falmouth University's School of Art in south west England.
Almost 2,500 people have now signed the petition, calling on the School of Art's director Virginia Button, and vice-chancellor and CEO Anne Carlisle to reconsider plans to close the programme.
"The cultural enrichment of ceramics and craft courses to both Cornwall and the wider community and the contributions Falmouth School of Art graduates make to the cultural development of the county, cannot be measured by spreadsheet," said the petition.
"Sometimes the right choice is not about money and we would hope that upon realising the support for these courses both county and country wide, the University and its director, vice-chancellor and CEO, will reconsider severing the ties between the vibrant crafts community and the university."
Falmouth said it was closing the course to new applicants from 2015 as it required too much space and cross-subsidising from other subject areas, while interest in craft courses was declining among students.
"The Contemporary Crafts course has a longstanding reputation and we are proud of the recognition many of our graduates have achieved. But it is also the University's most costly and space intensive subject area," said a statement from the university.
"We cannot maintain the course's space needs and intensely process-led curriculum without significant cross-subsidy from other subject areas – something we are not prepared to do. There has also been a decline in applications to crafts courses nationwide, which would make continuing investment in the subject area difficult to justify, cross-subsidy or not."
The University added that it was investing in new areas of study, introducing new courses including Digital Games and Business Entrepreneurship.
"We need a course portfolio that responds to student demand trends and to the changing employment opportunities in the global creative industries," said the statement.
The value of the crafts industry to the British economy was measured using research commissioned after the government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) proposed dropping crafts from its list of recognised creative industries in 2013.
"It's far bigger than we thought," said Rosy Greenlees, executive director of the Crafts Council, which carried out the research. "This is emphatic proof of the impact craft skills have on the economy."