Gavin Williamson – stop the 50% funding cut to arts subjects in Higher Education

NEW: YouGov / Public Campaign for the Arts poll finds a majority of British adults think that students should be able to choose to study creative and performing arts courses in HE, and that Government funding for these courses should be maintained. Read more →

The Government wants to impose a catastrophic 50% funding cut to arts subjects at higher education (HE) level in England.

The Office for Students, which distributes Government funding to support HE providers, said:

“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.”

In his guidance letter to the OfS, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“The OfS should reprioritise funding towards the provision of high-cost, high-value subjects … We would then potentially seek further reductions in future years.”

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.

We urge the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to reissue guidance to the Office for Students:

  1. Dropping Government demands for a 50% cut to high-cost subject funding of arts (‘C1.2’) subjects
  2. Recognising the value of arts subjects in education and of the arts in society
  3. Committing to sustained funding for HE providers so they can continue to deliver world-leading arts courses

Most funding for arts courses comes from tuition fees, but OfS funding is important for many HE providers to meet the costs of teaching. If this cut goes ahead, it could seriously affect the viability of courses. 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”.

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.

This is a targeted attack on arts subjects specifically. The OfS admits that “the government does not consider them to be as strategically important as other high-cost disciplines”, which are due to receive a 12% increase in funding.

When public backlash caused the Government to withdraw its ‘Fatima the ballerina’ advert, Ministers claimed they valued the arts and were ‘here for culture’. If that’s the case, the Government must stop this attack on the arts in Higher Education, value creative skills and fund arts subjects properly.

Tell the Government: arts education matters

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The Government wants to impose a catastrophic 50% funding cut to arts and creative courses at higher education (HE) level in England. A new YouGov poll commissioned by the Public Campaign for the Arts has 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: I've signed this petition to tell the Education Secretary that arts education matters. Will you join the campaign by signing too?

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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.

The OfS distributes annual Government funding to support:

  • areas where teaching costs are particularly high;
  • areas that are priorities for the Government.

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.

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.

  • A 50% cut for performing and creative arts, media studies and archaeology.
  • A 12% increase for other ‘high-cost’ subjects.

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.

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’.

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’.

£19 million instead of £36 million to support arts and creative courses in England in 2021-22. In total, the OfS plans to distribute £1,226 million to HE providers for 2021-22.

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.

The OfS consultation has now closed. The Department for Education will not be compelled to implement any of its recommendations, but it was a vital opportunity to make our views known in the official processes. The Public Campaign for the Arts made a representation with support from over 115,000 petition signatories. Thank you!