Cuts for London and arts ‘will damage universities and students’

Sector leaders say government proposal amounts to ‘a sudden multimillion-pound hit’ for some institutions and criticise decision not to phase changes

January 25, 2021
Source: iStock

English sector leaders have warned that students will have a “diminished” higher education experience and some institutions will struggle to conduct ground-breaking research or attract international talent under new funding proposals from the Westminster government.

In a letter to the Office for Students (OfS) on the allocation of teaching grant funding for the 2021-22 financial year, education secretary Gavin Williamson said that performing arts, creative arts, media studies and archaeology should see their previous high-cost subject funding cut by 50 per cent and potentially removed entirely, while London weighting funding for institutions and students should be scrapped.

Bashir Makhoul, vice-chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), which has campuses in Kent and Surrey, said that the “strategically short-sighted announcement will likely lead to a shrinkage in creative provision, at a time when the sector is already reeling from the government’s shambolic handling of the Covid crisis”.

“Cutting funding for creative subjects as we enter a recession is a ludicrous act of economic self-harm,” he told Times Higher Education. “Access to industry-standard facilities is crucial for universities like UCA, who pride themselves on preparing students for employment. Our film studios, metal workshops, glass-blowing facilities and pattern-cutting suites are not cheap, but they are the bedrock of our students’ future success.”

Greg Walker, chief executive of MillionPlus, the association for modern universities, said that the “additional costs borne by universities for creative arts programmes and the additional cost of provision in the capital…are real” and the funding proposals will “lead to a diminished experience on their programme of study for future students in London or those in the creative arts”.

“That such changes are not being properly phased is also both surprising and deeply concerning,” he said.

Mr Williamson justified the cuts by saying that high-cost subject funding should be directed at priority subjects such as medicine and sciences, and argued that London weighting was “inconsistent” with the government’s agenda to “level up” the English regions.

But a report published by KPMG in 2019 found that the cost of undergraduate teaching was 14 per cent higher in London than outside the capital.

And David Phoenix, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, said that the proposed scrapping of London weighting funding amounted to “a sudden multimillion-pound hit for universities”.

“Imposing these cuts without discussion, consideration or time for phasing will damage universities and their students while they are dealing with huge challenges from Covid-19,” he said.

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, added that the move would have “a significant negative impact on world-class higher education” in London, where “costs are not only higher but where many areas are just as disadvantaged as those the government wants to help elsewhere with its levelling-up agenda”.

Diana Beech, chief executive officer of London Higher, which represents universities in the city, said the announcement “confirms our worst fears that levelling up for the rest of the country means levelling down for London”.

“With London being the UK’s most expensive city to live and work, the London weighting has never represented extra money for London or for students attending courses in the city, but it has simply gone some way to bridging the shortfall of funds needed to deliver a high-quality higher education experience in the capital,” she said.

“The decision to cut the London weighting will vastly reduce the ability of London institutions to conduct ground-breaking research and continue to attract international talent, essential to the economic prowess of the UK as a whole.”

The comments came as the British Academy warned in its submission to the OfS consultation on regulating quality and standards that proposals to assess institutions at a subject level and set sector-wide student outcomes benchmarks at each level of study could lead to the closure of humanities and social sciences courses.

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Reader's comments (1)

The proposals will hit London and the arts. The government are clear about that. In a crisis, when every penny spent has to be prioritised, it is the right decision. Operating costs are higher in London, however there is no evidence that £ for £ it results in better teaching or outcomes. The higher costs are mainly a result of higher property costs, transport costs, salary cost and living costs in general. It makes sense to help support more students by reducing London spend and allocating funds to locations where costs are lower for the same result and you get "more bang for your buck." Cuts in the budget for the Arts are brutal but understandable. Applicants for undergraduate places are always high, despite the low, average incomes of those that work in the sector post graduation. Why increase the supply of such people when there is already over supply and massive unemployment, particularly now when many would be employers are closed with most employees on furlough. It is cruel and disappointing for th thwarted students but it makes economic sense for tax payers.