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Masters of the arts

College visual and performing arts courses are taught better than any others -and have produced a host of star alumni

Performers and artists are receiving the highest-quality education at colleges and are contributing to one of the fastest-growing sections of the economy, inspectors have found.

Visual and performing arts are the best taught subjects in colleges, according to a report by the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

More than 20 per cent of courses were rated outstanding in last year's round of inspections, compared to just 14 per cent of all courses.

The arts contribute pound;16.5 billion to the UK economy, and employ 459,200 people. The number of jobs increased by 9.1 per cent between 1998 and 2002, double the rate of the economy as a whole, according to the report.

Inspectors said other subjects should learn from the "inspirational" teaching in the best visual and performing arts courses.

David Sherlock, chief inspector of the ALI, said: "The arts are not just about soft skills - we found they can help in applying new technologies, using critical analysis or managing complex projects.

"The ALI would like to see providers in other sectors taking a leaf out of the book from the arts sector. It does not matter if you are teaching a technical subject like engineering - there are still things that can be learnt from this report."

Other courses would be improved if lecturers all showed the passion that arts teachers display for their subject and offered the same opportunities to learn by experience, the inspectors said.

In a first for the ALI, the report is accompanied by a DVD demonstrating students' achievements on their college courses. Tony Evans, a former Liverpool community college student, was among thosepraised in the report.

The 62-year-old took voluntary redundancy after working for more than 30 years for the Prudential assurance company.

He went to the college to improve his watercolour painting, but his teachers introduced him to many more artistic media and encouraged him to take GCSEs and A-levels in art.

Now, after completing a degree course, he is establishing himself as a successful sculptor, specialising in life-sized animals rendered in recycled copper.

The Atkinson gallery in Southport bought one of his works to display alongside those of famous sculptors such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. "They gave me the chance to do tasters on printing, photography, 3D, life drawing. If I had the time, I'd like to do it all over again," he said.

"It's a fantastic feeling for me. I'm surprised I'm doing as well as I am.

College raised my expectations of myself."

But his agent, Steve Turner of the Birmingham-based Turner Fine Arts, questioned whether most arts teaching paid enough attention to commercial demands.

He said: "I see so many students who aren't taught about the commercial side of things. Lecturers in colleges are nine times out of 10 failed artists. It's so hard for artists to earn money but they're not taught anything about the commercial side of the arts. How can they make a living?"

He said Mr Evans is an exception, producing work which has won respect from museums and the art-buying public. But according to his agent, even he was unprepared for dealing with museums and galleries.

"The Atkinson Gallery in Southport offered to show his work and he asked me, should I do it? I said that some artists work all their lives and don't get an opportunity to show at a museum," he said.

Colleges maintain good relationships with many of their students who go on to achieve fame.

The actor Robert Lindsay, famous for his Shakespearean roles, and the sitcoms Citizen Smith and My Family, studied performing arts at Clarendon College, now part of New College Nottingham.

He has maintained links with the college, returning to open a new arts and drama centre in 2000 and sponsoring an award for the best performing arts student.

"Without my tutors - their support, enthusiasm, encouragement and teaching skills - I wouldn't have joined the entertainment industry," he said.

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