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UK government plans to cut university funding for creative subjects

The UK government has announced funding cuts to arts subjects including music, dance, drama, performing arts, art and design, media studies and archaeology and according to the Office for Student (OfS), who are responsible for distributing government funding to universities.

The government has sent a statutory guidance letter to the OfS directing them to cut funding by 50% to high-cost courses not on the Department for Education’s priority list. Performing and creative arts are not among the official “strategic priorities”, with a cut from £36m to £19m proposed next year.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he would “potentially seek further reductions” to central funding for such courses in future years. The government has requested for the money to be redirected to “subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy, high-cost STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects and/or specific labour market needs”. The Department of Education said that this is what is necessary to “support the skills this country needs to build back better”.

Despite this “catastrophic” cut, the Department for Education said that most university funding comes from tuition fees and other sources, and that the reduction in funding would only affect “a small proportion” of universities’ income.

The Russell Group of research universities has objected to the proposed cuts. Its submission to the OfS argues that the affected courses will now run at a deficit of about £2,700 per student, including the income from tuition fees. The group – including University College London, who are anticipated to lose £5.8m – said the cuts will particularly affect universities in London and their ability to attract disadvantaged students or those from under-represented backgrounds.

Singer and former Pulp frontman, Jarvis Cocker and author Bernardine Evaristo are among those who have criticised the plan to cut government funding for arts. Cocker said the “astounding” move would hit poorer students the hardest and claimed that the cuts would ensure arts subjects were only accessible to wealthier students.

The cultural sector contributed £34.6bn to the overall UK economy in 2019, an increase of 27% since 2010, compared with an 18% rise for the overall economy.

Cocker told The Guardian: “I think it will really just put off people from a certain background, and that’s a pity because it’s about mixing with people with different ideas, and then you get this cross pollination of stuff that makes things happen.”

He added: “It always seems to be that it’s art education that seems to be this expendable thing, as if it’s not important, and it is.”

Chris Walters from the Musicians’ Union said the consultation, which closed at midnight on Thursday May 6, had been “poorly publicised” and was not “transparent”, “legitimate” or “fair”.

He said: “It risks the financial viability of training that is essential for producing the next generation of musicians and arts professionals.”

“The notice for this cut is so short that it will likely cause chaos as courses are withdrawn at the last minute, affecting students who have already been accepted onto courses for autumn enrolment.”

“The cut will affect all students, but particularly those from less privileged backgrounds who may rely on local, less well funded institutions that cannot divert funds from elsewhere.”

Booker Prize-winning writer Evaristo described the plan as an “awful assault on the arts in universities”. Evaristo and others have expressed their support for the Public Campaign for the Arts which launched a campaign urging Mr Williamson to rethink his strategy.

General secretary of the arts union Equity, Paul Fleming, said his organisation also “opposes these cuts in the strongest terms”.

He said: “This is yet another government attack on arts education, following years of deprioritising drama and other creative subjects in our schools.” 

“What is most troubling about the proposal to cut 50% of funding… is that it blocks a route into the creative industries for working class and other marginalised groups.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education told Cherwell: “The proposed reforms to the Strategic Priorities Grant would only affect a small proportion of the income of higher education providers. High-quality provision in a range of subjects is critical for our workforce and our society. That is why we asked the Office for Students to allocate an additional £10m to our world-leading specialist providers, including several top arts institutions. Government’s proposed reforms only affect the additional funding allocated towards some creative subjects and are designed to target taxpayers’ money towards the subjects which support the skills this country needs to build back better, such as those that support the NHS, high-cost STEM subjects.”

“The OfS are currently consulting on proposals and we will take account of responses from universities, students, and others before making any final decisions on our funding method.”

Image Credit: Number 10 / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

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