Slashing Funding for the Arts Will Ruin England’s Creative Sector

Abra Heritage | Editor in Chief

Funding cuts for arts courses and London universities have been confirmed under Gavin Williamson’s plans to instead drive funding into science, technology and engineering.

These reforms will halve the funding subsidy for arts subjects from the beginning of the 2021 academic year. Previously, the Office for Students would provide £243 per full-time student per year. Now, full time arts students will only bring £121.50 of government subsidies to universities per year. This will make some courses unviable, especially in the capital where London weighted funding is being removed. In total, £20 million will be shifted from arts & London weighted funding into STEM education.  

Effected courses include degree level performing arts, music, drama, dance, art, design studies, cinematics and photography, information services, publishing, journalism, media, and clothing and footwear production. Learndirect courses, which are aimed at upskilling adults in employment, will also have their arts and creative studies funding cut. These courses include gardening, floristry, industrial design, technical engineering, librarianship, communications, publishing, and media production.

This neglect of art is unfortunately common practice in Conservative governance. From 2010-2019, libraries, museums and art galleries across England had their funding cut by nearly £400m. Continued cuts to council services in England has already made arts education a privilege only available to those with parents who can afford lessons and club fees.

The Department for Education has attempted justification of the cuts, stating that “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”. What Williamson seems to have forgotten, is that it doesn’t need to be one or the other. We do not need to choose between funding arts or STEM. Mention of targeting taxpayer money is particularly insulting after analysing Boris Johnson’s handling of government finances throughout the pandemic. Test and trace consultants paid £7,000 a day and billions of pounds spent on crony contracts are a waste of taxpayer money, let’s not shift the blame onto art students. It seems absurd to dismiss the arts sector on economic grounds and the “needs of the labour market” anyway, when the UK’s creative industries contribute almost £13 million to the UK economy every hour, with the sector growing more than five times faster than the national economy (2020).

With these economic numbers, you’d assume the Tories would be all over the arts. The reality is, they’re terrified of them. The arts are critical, unpredictable, reflective. They provide us with understanding of human emotions and motivations, and in doing so allow for thought over how societies can be changed for the better. The Tories aren’t against the arts on an economic ground. No, this is a matter of class politics; a fear that can only be subdued by restricting art education to the upper and middle class elite. The arts will always remain available to Britain’s privileged, as Jo Grady, UCU general secretary has concluded: “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”. Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, sang a similar tune in a recent tweet: “Why does the Government insist on sending a message to some of our most talented young people that they are somehow second-class students? It’s almost as if they want to keep arts and culture as the sole preserve of the well-off”.

This economic attack will have a drastic influence over how the arts are received in England. Removing funding and tangible support from arts degrees deems these disciplines and qualifications as lesser. We are in real trouble when those in power start to devalue studies that focus on critical reasoning, analysis, and creativity.

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