More than 150,000 people, spanning every Parliamentary constituency in the UK, have signed a petition against planned cuts to arts and creative subjects in Higher Education, launched by the Public Campaign for the Arts.
The petition calls on the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to reissue guidance to the Office for Students, which distributes Government funding to HE providers in England, in which he said that arts and creative subjects were not “strategic priorities” and that the OfS should “reduce funding by 50%” from September. The petition also calls on the Secretary of State to “recognise the value of arts subjects in education and of the arts in society” and to “commit to sustained funding for HE providers so they can continue to deliver world-leading arts courses”.
The OfS has confirmed: “the Government proposes that the courses that are not among its strategic priorities – covering subjects in music, dance, drama and performing arts; art and design; media studies; and archaeology – are to be subject to a reduction of 50 percent”.
Gavin Williamson’s plans have sparked shock and bewilderment from across the arts and education sectors. Booker Prize-winning writer Bernardine Evaristo called them “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 proposals, called them “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 Public Campaign for the Arts launched in June 2020 and now has over 200,000 registered supporters, demonstrating increasing public concern for the future of UK arts and culture and nationwide support for sustained public investment in the arts.
PCA Director Jack Gamble said:
“Arts education SHOULD be among the Government’s strategic priorities. The arts enrich our lives, our communities and our economy too. In lockdown, millions turned to them to support their mental health. Before the pandemic, the creative industries were growing five times faster than the UK economy as a whole and generating over £111 billion a year. We risk losing these benefits without proper support for the creative skills underpinning them.”
PCA Head of Strategy Nicholas Pitt said:
“This is an attack on the future of UK arts, the creative potential of the next generation, and the people who deliver our world-leading arts courses. Rather than segregating and devaluing the arts in this way, the Government should maintain its important investment in creative skills, ensuring that arts courses are widely accessible and properly supported.”
The planned implementation of the proposal by the Office for Students involves the creation of a new ‘C1.2’ category, segarating arts subjects from similar ‘high-cost subjects’ such as nursing and computing in order to impose the 50% cut recommended by the Government. The Public Campaign for the Arts has formally objected to this plan through the OfS consultation, which closed on Thursday.
Most funding for arts courses comes from tuition fees, but ‘high-cost subject funding’ is important for many HE providers to meet the costs of teaching. There is concern that so large a cut will make courses unviable, shutting off opportunities for students and the talent pipeline to the creative industries. The Musicians’ Union has reacted with “horror” at the plans, saying they will be “catastrophic for music provision at HE level”, and that “the notice given of this cut is far too short to enable HE institutions to plan for September”. Equity has called it “another government attack on arts education after years of deprioritising creative subjects in our schools”, warning that it could “block a route into the creative industries for working-class and other marginalised groups”. Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens and the Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green have both opposed the plans.
The Public Campaign for the Arts is a nationwide campaign to protect and advance arts and culture in the UK. 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.
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?
Through the creation of a new, separate category – ‘C1.2 subjects’ – for music, dance, drama and performing arts; art and design; media studies; and archaeology. Subjects in this new category will then have their ‘high-cost subject funding’ halved.
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 music and arts programmes at short notice.