Ministers criticised for ‘vandalism’ over creative and London cuts

Despite condemnation in consultation, English regulator pushes ahead with cuts that ‘recklessly level down’ London institutions

July 20, 2021

England’s regulator has confirmed that it will be cutting funding for creative and performing arts subjects and scrapping the London weighting, prompting warnings that some institutions in the capital now face a “financial cliff edge”.

Following a consultation, the Office for Students announced that it would be pressing ahead with the reforms set out to the regulator by education secretary Gavin Williamson, which will see the previous high-cost funding for creative arts, performing arts and media studies cut by 50 per cent.

Their subsidy will be reduced from £243 per full-time student per year to £121.50. Archaeology was included in the original proposals but instead will “remain as a priority subject”, the OfS said.

High-profile arts figures led by singer Jarvis Cocker had previously condemned the plans.

The regulator’s announcement also confirmed that London institutions would lose their subsidies as the government’s terms and conditions meant that “the OfS may not vary the level of grants awarded universities and colleges based on their geographic location”.

The OfS also confirmed that funding for specialist institutions would increase by £10 million to £53 million.

According to the regulator, it received an “unprecedented” number of responses to its consultation on the proposals for how it would distribute its remaining £1.4 billion in direct funding from the government, which the OfS said was stretched this year due to an increase in students who particularly want to study high-cost subjects.

Vice-chancellors and unions have condemned the funding cuts, saying that they will diminish universities and the student experience, as well as the creative industries.

The consultation had “very large numbers expressing disagreement with our proposals to cut funding for the arts”, nonetheless “that proposal is being taken forward despite those responses received,” because the condition of the grant was to take the government’s approach, the OfS said.

Diana Beech, chief executive of the London Higher group of universities, a former policy adviser to Conservative universities ministers, said she was “obviously disappointed” by the decision to scrap the London weighting.

“Our recent research shows this decision will leave several London providers on a financial cliff edge and will push at least three into the red from an otherwise comfortable position, not to mention exacerbate the difficulties of many more,” she said. “This decision could force some London providers to implement drastic cost-saving measures, putting at risk staff jobs and student services at a time when they are most needed.”

The London Weighting was there to meet the higher operating costs faced by providers in London, she continued: “Destabilising London’s higher education providers is not a means to level up the rest of the sector; rather it is recklessly levelling down London and sending a clear signal to London’s students that they no longer matter.”

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that the “drastic cut to creative arts funding” would be “hugely damaging for access, creating geographical cold spots as many courses become unviable – including at institutions in the capital where London weighting funding is being removed”.

“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,” she added.

“This announcement undermines the huge contribution the creative arts sector makes to society and the wider economy, and ministers should be careful not to try and fool anyone by suggesting a comparatively modest increase for some select specialist institutions will make up for this act of vandalism, which will risk widespread job losses within these vital subjects.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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