arts cuts
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UK government approves 50% funding cut for arts and design courses

The UK government is to move ahead with plans to cut funding for art and design courses by 50% across higher education institutions in England. The Office for Students (OfS) confirmed the subsidy for each full-time student on an arts course will be cut from £243 to £121.50 in the 2021/22 academic year, a move that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said will save around £20m. The reforms will see more money invested in other high-cost subjects, such as Stem and medicine, in what has been termed “one of the biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory”.

In May this year, it was revealed that Williamson said that “the OfS should reprioritise funding towards the provision of high-cost, high-value subjects that support the NHS… high-cost Stem subjects”. He advised that the body should consider reducing funding for “high-cost subjects” that do not support government priorities – examples include music, dance, media studies and drama. When this news hit the headlines, cultural groups – including the advocacy campaign Public Campaign for the Arts and the Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN) – rallied against the potential move. An open letter by the CVAN read: “The current proposal may limit the availability and accessibility of places on arts courses and result in fewer courses being offered. This will have a detrimental impact on our ability to retain our world leading position, attract inward investment through our cultural capital and our share of the global art market.”

The reforms will see more money invested in other high-cost subjects, such as Stem and medicine, in what has been termed “one of the biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory”

A spokesman for the OfS confirmed the 50% decrease in funding but adds that “this reduction is equivalent to around one per cent of the combined course fee [tuition fee of £9,250 and top-up grant] and OfS funding. There is no change to how these subjects are treated for other OfS funding streams, such as the additional premiums awarded to universities and colleges to support disadvantaged students.”

The OfS also confirmed that London universities would have their London weighting cut under the reforms. Prof Frances Corner, the warden of Goldsmiths, University of London, said the changes would result in losses of £2m to her university each year: “This announcement takes an axe to creative arts education and threatens to have a devastating impact on London universities and their surrounding communities. With our home borough of Lewisham being among England’s poorest areas, the withdrawal of this funding looks more like ‘punching down’ than ‘levelling up’. These cuts to London weighting represent a body blow to our local community as it tries to recover from Covid-19.”

This drastic cut to creative arts funding is one of the biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory

– Dr Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), described the cuts as an “act of vandalism”. She said: “This drastic cut to creative arts funding is one of the biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory. It will be hugely damaging for access, creating geographical cold spots as many courses become unviable – including at institutions in the capital where London weighting funding is being removed. The universities most vulnerable are those with a higher number of less well-off students and it is unconscionable to deny them the chance to study subjects like art, drama and music.”

The Department for Education denied that the funding changes meant the government was devaluing the arts and pointed to an additional £10m being allocated to support specialist arts providers (rising to £53m). A DfE spokesperson said: “Funding from the strategic priorities grant is a small percentage of the total income of the higher education sector. The reprioritisation is designed to target taxpayers’ money towards subjects that support the NHS, science, technology and engineering, and the specific needs of the labour market including archaeology [given a reprieve from the cuts] which is vital to key industries such as construction and transport.”

Arts may not be the money-spinners that science degrees are, but they produce people who are the very heart of the UK. We produce phenomenal and world-recognised art, music, entertainment – to so brutally cut so much arts funding may hurt the cultural life of our country

The government has long opined on what it describes as the need to cut down on low-quality courses and has not been shy about its desire to direct students into ‘more useful’ subjects (who else remembers the awful Fatima advert?). But, in making such a move, it appears that they fundamentally misunderstand the value of the arts in the first place. Arts may not be the money-spinners that science degrees are (although it’s still worth around £10.5 billion a year), but they produce people who are the very heart of the UK. We produce phenomenal and world-recognised art, music, entertainment – to so brutally cut so much arts funding may hurt the cultural life of our country.

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