The Education Secretary is facing increased pressure to abandon planned cuts to arts subjects in higher education, after a new YouGov poll commissioned by the Public Campaign for the Arts found a clear majority of British adults think that students should be able to choose to study creative and performing arts courses, and that Government funding for these courses should be maintained.
Gavin Williamson has instructed the Office for Students, which distributes Government funding to HE providers in England, to impose a 50% cut in ‘high-cost subject funding’ from September 2021 for creative and performing arts, media studies and archaeology courses, saying they are not “strategic priorities” for the Government.
Opposition to the proposals has been mounting from over 160,000 signatories of a petition launched by the grassroots Public Campaign for the Arts, plus leading arts figures including Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Bernadine Evaristo and Jarvis Cocker.
According to the YouGov/Public Campaign for the Arts poll, 57% of GB adults think it is fairly or very important for the Government to maintain funding for the teaching of creative and performing arts subjects in HE, versus 31% who think it is not very important or not important at all (12% don’t know). There is a majority consensus among every age group and UK region, including over two-thirds (68%) of Londoners.
70% of adults think it is fairly or very important that students can choose to study creative and performing arts subjects in HE, versus 21% who think it isn’t (10% don’t know). The OfS has set “diversity of subject choice” as one of its key performance measures.
The ability to choose arts and creative courses in HE is also considered important by 61% of Conservative Party voters from the 2019 election – plus 60% of people in the ‘C2DE social grade’ and 79% of 18-24 year olds, the groups most likely to be directly affected by the planned cut.
The Musicians’ Union has reacted with “horror” to the plans, saying that “the notice given of this cut is far too short to enable HE institutions to plan for September” and that “it could cause utter chaos as courses are withdrawn at the last minute, leaving students without the future they are currently working towards”. The Cultural Learning Alliance has warned that “many arts courses will have to close” if the cut goes ahead, as “universities may no longer be able to balance the books to deliver arts courses”.
PCA Director Jack Gamble said:
“This poll is proof that to most people in Britain, arts education matters – students should be able to choose arts courses in higher education, and the Government should maintain its important funding for them. We urge Gavin Williamson to listen to the public, and to abandon these damaging cuts now.”
PCA Head of Strategy Nicholas Pitt said:
“Arts and creative courses are life-enriching, and they also underpin much of our globally-successful creative industries, which before the pandemic were growing five times faster than the UK economy as a whole. For these courses to remain viable and widely accessible, they must be properly supported by the Government.”
Booker Prize-winning writer Bernardine Evaristo has called the planned cut “catastrophic” and an “awful assault on the arts in universities”. Musician Jarvis Cocker, whose alma mater the University of the Arts London is set to lose almost £4m under the proposal, called it “astounding” and warned of negative impacts on students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Imtiaz Dharker, Chancellor of Newcastle University, said “cutting funding for the Arts in Higher Education would be like cutting off the oxygen that allows us to breathe and grow as a society”.
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s director of learning and national partnerships Jacqui O’Hanlon said the RSC had “huge concerns about the impact of the proposed distribution and resulting cuts to arts courses on widening existing inequalities, the cultural and creative sector talent pipeline, the ability of our creative industries to remain world-leading in future years, and the message they send about the value of arts subjects overall”.
The Public Campaign for the Arts is a nationwide campaign to champion the value of the arts and creativity. Since launching in June 2020, over 200,000 supporters have joined from every one of the UK’s 650 Parliamentary constituencies. The Campaign successfully petitioned the Government to introduce the Culture Recovery Fund to help protect cultural organisations from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Nottingham City Council to reverse a planned 37% cut to cultural organisations. Its Arts Map, an online platform which enables anyone to find and support arts companies near them, has created an unprecedented support link between UK citizens and their cultural organisations. It was funded entirely by small donations from over a thousand members of the public.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,699 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th – 18th May 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
What is the Office for Students (OfS)?
The OfS is the independent regulator of higher education in England. It is answerable to the Secretary of State for Education as a NDPB (non-departmental public body). Since 2018-19 the OfS has been responsible for distributing Government funding to HE providers.
What funding does the OfS distribute to HE providers?
The OfS distributes annual Government funding to support:
What is ‘high-cost subject funding’ and why is it important?
Some courses cost more per student to deliver. These include courses in the performing and creative arts, but also nursing, computing and other areas. The OfS grants ‘high-cost subject funding’ to support these courses, topping up student tuition fees so that HE providers can meet the costs of teaching.
Who decides how the OfS awards funding?
The Government directs the OfS through a ‘statutory guidance letter’ from the Secretary of State for Education. Then the OfS draws up proposals in response. The OfS has been consulting on their proposals for 2021-22.
What changes are being proposed to the levels of funding for ‘high-cost subjects’?
A 50% cut for performing and creative arts, media studies and archaeology.
A 12% increase for other ‘high-cost’ subjects.
How is the OfS proposing to implement this cut?
On 6 May the Office for Students closed their consultation on funding plans for the 2021-22 academic year. They involve the creation of a new ‘C1.2’ category, separating music, dance, drama and performing arts, art and design, media studies and archaeology from other ‘high-cost subjects’ such as nursing and computing in order to impose the 50% funding cut ordered by the Education Secretary. The Public Campaign for the Arts has objected to the plans in its submission to the OfS consultation, from which decisions are expected in June.
Why is the OfS proposing this?
Because Gavin Williamson has directed the OfS to cut funding by 50% to high-cost courses not on the Department for Education’s priority list. According to the OfS, performing and creative arts courses are ‘not among [the Government’s] strategic priorities’.
If this cut is approved, could there be further cuts after 2021-22?
Yes. In his guidance letter, Gavin Williamson says: ‘We recognise the importance of a phased transition; the OfS should therefore reduce funding by 50% for high-cost subjects that do not support these priorities. We would then potentially seek further reductions in future years’.
What exactly would this cut mean in financial terms?
£19 million instead of £36 million to support arts and creative courses in England in 2021-22 – a reduction of £17 million. In total, the OfS plans to distribute £1,226 million to HE providers for 2021-22.
What would the impact be on arts courses?
There is huge concern that – with a funding cut as large as 50%, short notice before the start of the next academic year, and the potential for further cuts in future years – many arts courses could become unviable. The Cultural Learning Alliance has warned, ‘colleagues tell us many arts courses will have to close’. This cut risks the financial viability of essential training that will produce the next generation of professionals in our creative industries, which before the pandemic were generating over £111bn a year for the UK economy. It could cause utter chaos as courses are withdrawn at the last minute, leaving students who have applied and been accepted onto courses starting in the autumn without the future they are currently working towards. It will affect all students, but particularly those from less privileged backgrounds who may rely on being able to access courses locally or through institutions that cannot divert funds from elsewhere to save their arts courses at short notice.