To STEM or not to STEM remains a question, but it should not be the only one for policy makers thinking about economic and innovation role of graduates.

Governments across the globe are quite rightly worried about the flow of Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) graduates into the economy. And drains are constantly being dug up to see if blockages can be removed and the pressure increased. Two such reports have just been published in the UK – one on computing sciences, and the other on the more general provision of STEM skills within Higher Education. The National Centre for Universities and Business has been asked to take on aspects of both of these and we are glad to do so. But we are also turning our attention to the economic value of graduates in Design, Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities graduates (DASSH).

Over the years, DASSH educators and employers have cast an envious glance at STEM colleagues, wondering how to get an invite to the party. Some inserted an ‘A’ into STEM to make it STEAM (which, of course, ignores the social sciences). Others fret that the humanities are somehow ‘other’, by loudly proclaiming their relevance they hope government will hear. Even the medics have jumped in on the act by adding a final ‘M’ to STEMM in case policy makers forget them.

So, why do we need another acronym? Unfortunately, policy-making sometimes feels like a zero sum game. There’s only so much attention to go around, so the focus on STEM crowds out other disciplines. All good marketing campaigns need a simple message and DASSH foregrounds the vital importance of design as a distinctive and powerful contributor to the economy alongside the more traditional disciplines. And crucially, the fluid and inventive interactions between these various disciplines are a crucial national resource in economies dominated by knowledge-based assets (KBAs).

These debates about the relative value of the sciences and the arts have been embedded in western thinking and government policy since the middle of the 19th century. But surely it’s time to move on? Our work on The Fuse programme showed clearly that business leaders with DASSH backgrounds were delivering higher growth in their companies than either solely arts or science graduates.

In our review of the role of higher education in the Scottish Innovation System it became increasingly clear that Scottish companies will grow by increasing their KBA’s, such as copyright, design, new concept development, and organisational know-how. This echoes McKinsey’s work on Innovation Capital, which stresses the interaction between investment in physical, knowledge, human capital in driving growth. It also chimes with our own definition of Innovation Capacity which is: ‘the ability of a firm to access and apply internal and external knowledge, ideas, technology and graduate talent to improve innovative performance and competitiveness.’

There are no disciplinary biases to the kinds of graduates who can develop and deliver KBAs, but the Task Force recommended a review of DASSH graduates and their role in innovation, particularly in these new ways of thinking about businesses.

With apologies to the deans of arts, social sciences and humanities (, we need to reclaim their ‘D’ for design and with no apologies at all, we need to move beyond sterile disciplinary divisions if we are to grow prosperity and well-being in the world.