LONDON, United Kingdom — For the third year in a row, Central Saint Martins (CSM) tops BoF’s Global Fashion School Rankings. The London-based art school, which counts the likes of Phoebe Philo and Alexander McQueen amongst its alumni, took first place in both our graduate and undergraduate fashion course rankings, cementing its reputation as the world’s leading creative institution for fashion education. And, in our first ever ranking of graduate business courses, Paris’ Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) takes top honours.
But will going to fashion school actually get you a job? This year’s analysis reveals a decidedly mixed performance. CSM’s top ranking reflected the high regard it is held in by educators, its students and recruiters, as well as its impressive employability score — measured by surveying HR professionals who awarded the school the highest possible indexed score of 100.
As one former student tells BoF, “The CSM name carries great weight, which played a major role in helping me get a job. The networking and help from the faculty to reach out to industry insiders is great.”
However, CSM and the handful of other schools which also achieved strong employability scores, including Parsons and Antwerp, ranked second and third place respectively, are leagues ahead of the rest of the fashion education market.
This year, BoF also analysed graduate fashion business courses. Paris’ Institut Français de la Mode (IFM), a school with exceptionally strong industry ties, topped our inaugural ranking. “The best professionals from the fashion, luxury and design sector come to teach us how the business works; the network of IFM is incredible and gives you many opportunities to discover what suits you best. Moreover, it opens so many job opportunities throughout the year,” says one recent graduate.
Indeed, graduating from a leading institution is the surest way to gain employment in the fashion industry. While 76 percent of the total alumni respondents gained a job within 6 months of graduating, the return on investment for those attending lower ranked schools is questionable.
View BoF’s full Global Fashion School Rankings 2017 here.
Employability Matters Most to Students
According to the more than 11,000 students surveyed this year, employment is their primary concern, especially as the number of fashion graduates continues to grow each year, outpacing the number of available jobs. In the US, for example, it’s estimated that each year about 10 percent of the total job pool are graduating from undergraduate programmes and entering industry with degrees in fashion design each year, which in turn has created an oversupply.
As a result, we have placed further emphasis on employability in our rankings, revealing a gap between the institutions with the best graduate employability scores as defined by HR recruiters and the rest of the fashion education market. Of the 73 schools assessed by BoF, the top five performers in the Bachelors — Central Saint Martins, Parsons, Antwerp, LCF, Aalto — won a large chunk (40 percent) of points allocated by HR recruiters. This focus on employability depressed scores for Kingston University, which dropped from second to ninth place; as well as Drexel University in the US, which dropped 13 places from 11 to 24; and Japan’s Bunka Gakuen University, which dropped six places from 8 to 14.
Other schools were buoyed by the focus on employability, including Accademia Costume & Moda, the alma mater of Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, and University of Technology Sydney, now the highest ranking Australian university, which both moved up the rankings significantly.
Creating Employment Advantage for Students
Today, the schools most successful in training their students to secure employment are deepening industry ties, investing in innovative technologies and digital resources and evolving their curriculums and course structures.
In 2017, Florence-based Polimoda, which scored in the top 10 in all three rankings, announced a Masters course designed and executed in partnership with Gucci. The nine-month course, which launches in April 2018, will cover retail management, finance, merchandising and marketing and will be taught, in part, by Gucci managers. Gucci will also offer select graduates internships or job opportunities at Kering, Gucci’s parent company. One former Polimoda student tells BoF, “Polimoda was my career reset button and entry ticket to the fashion and luxury market, and it gave me exactly that.”
Other institutions are seeking to train students in newly important skills. In January 2017, London College of Fashion (LCF) opened its Digital Learning Lab, where students can work with new technologies, including e-textiles, creative coding, mixed and virtual reality and 3D printing. Similarly, the University of Westminster has invested in new digital printing technologies and a suite of other resources, resulting in over 90 percent of students being satisfied with the technological resources of the school. "The quality of the technical resources, machinery and workrooms was by far the best I've experienced, including my time in the industry,” says one Westminster alumnus.
Other institutions are providing their students with a wider range of courses on topics from law to advertising to media studies to coding, as part of their fashion studies. Finland’s Aalto University, Israel’s Shenkar College and Japan’s Bunka Gakuen have each created flexible curriculums, encouraging students broaden their skill sets.
Being based in a top fashion capital also provides a clear advantage. Eight of the top 10 undergraduate programmes, all of the top 10 graduate fashion courses and seven of the top 10 graduate business courses are stitched into fashion hubs where major fashion houses and retailers are based including Paris, London, Milan, Florence and New York. Simply, being in a fashion capital boosts access to work experience opportunities and employment rates, and this is especially true for students aspiring to enter the luxury sector.
“The BA fashion design course is rigorous and trying, but the results are clear — we are contacted by the likes of Louis Vuitton, Tom Ford and Burberry for internships during our sandwich year and for jobs straight after graduation,” says one student of London’s University of Westminster, which came 10th in the 2017 undergraduate rankings.
The experience level of leading members of the faculty, as well as internship programmes, are also important factors in driving employment rates. Specialised courses and resources relevant to growing industry needs, such as sustainability and digital design, can also boost results, as can access to industry events, even in second-tier fashion hubs.
BoF’s New Graduate Business Rankings
The decision to create a new graduate business ranking was prompted by student feedback, as well as the growing number of fashion schools that offer business courses. Indeed, while many of the top executives in fashion may have graduated from top US business schools like Wharton and Harvard, or HEC and INSEAD in France, fashion schools are increasingly looking to get into the market for business education and these programmes required a separate ranking with a unique methodology.
The fashion industry requires a broad range of skills and its business leaders must appreciate both creativity and commerce to be successful. “The MSc International Luxury Management manages to engender young professionals with a business focus from the very crucial cultural lens that brings a key understanding of luxury or fashion brands,” says one student of IFM.
Yet some HR recruiters remain sceptical of the competitiveness of specialist fashion business courses compared to their more established MBA equivalents. “I believe fashion is still viewed as a niche industry and most executives with high ranking school credentials will have access to the desired roles without necessarily having had an in-depth industry focus (HEC graduates are an obvious example in France). I have a sense that these specialised postgraduate fashion schools are not as competitive as their business counterparts,” says Caroline Pill, vice president of Kirk Palmer Associates, an executive search company that works with Calvin Klein, Estée Lauder Companies and Farfetch.
However, the educators behind some of fashion’s most successful postgraduate business courses think they are onto something with these new specialised programmes. “Creative leadership is sought after across all sectors. For example, Angela Ahrendts moving from Burberry to become Apple’s Senior Vice President demonstrates the problem-solving, enquiry-led approach that you get with creative studies, learning to work autonomously and innovatively to become reflective, independent and strategic thinkers, and therefore effective decision makers,” says Frances Corner, head of London College of Fashion, which placed second in our inaugural ranking and launched its first fashion business programme over 20 years ago and offers both an MSc in Strategic Fashion Management and a full-time MBA aimed at candidates with over three years of experience in the industry, among other programmes.
“The MA Fashion Design Management course provided the optimal balance of commercial training and creative thinking courses. This industry requires both. You can't get this at a traditional business school. I feel very prepared for a successful career in this industry,” says one LCF student.
Ultimately however Pill believes specialist courses in fashion business are a “nice-to-have,” not a necessity. “Attending a specialised course will often open doors and allow privileged access to the industry through internships, networking, career days, guest lectures etcetera, but I wouldn’t think it’s necessarily the key to success in the industry,” she concludes.
To view the full State of Fashion Education Report and BoF Global Fashion School Rankings, and learn more about our ranking methodology, click here.