The government cuts to higher education have been well documented in this paper, the national media and in the form of the explosive student protests of recent months. David Cameron et al plan to cut the higher education budget from £7.1bn to £4.2bn by 2014, with the university supplementing this funding with student fees of up to £9,000 a year.
Grievous though this is, what has been less well documented is the allocation of that remaining £4.2bn. In their spending review, the coalition government ring-fenced academic subjects into four bands, A-D. Bands A and B include science, engineering and maths; what the government views to be ‘useful’ subjects. These subjects will be protected from most of the cuts by government ring-fencing. Instead it will be Bands C and D – arts, humanities and social sciences – that will shoulder almost all of the slashing to funding.
It is accepted as fact that following these cuts, humanities departments around the country will have to close, unable to support themselves without the handouts offered to Bands A and B. Mr Willetts and Mr Cameron apparently do not see the humanities as worthy of any public investment, and in my opinion this is a dangerous oversight. An education in the thoughts, decisions, mistakes and creativity of others is an education in our individual and collective potential. How extraordinarily arrogant to assume that this is all rendered irrelevant by an economic downturn.
The results of these changes to education will be felt for generations to come. If future students are forbidden from choosing between arts and science, between creative thought and analysing markets, the government is thus overtly prioritising ‘hard’ knowledge over ‘cultural expression’. We may all now be tiny cogs in the industrial machine of Cameron’s Big Society, but a society that doesn’t acknowledge the individual’s worth in both its education and culture is not worth having.
The cuts to humanities will affect not just the students, but the professors and tutors who teach in universities. Research grants are already harder to come by and as such the progression of individual thought within England will be disabled. This poses a serious threat to our country’s culture and status as a democratic nation.
As the months roll on, it is easy to forget the implications of subject-weighted cuts to university funding. But the importance of humanities and the arts must not be disregarded by the government or students. There is a discussion on the subject organised for Tuesday 15th March. Look for the event on Facebook and contribute to the discussion. We must all fight for a democratic education system that focuses on more than economic interest.