Unions condemn English university arts cuts in letter to PM

Plans to reduce teaching grant are one of ‘biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory’

June 23, 2021
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Seven unions have attacked the Westminster government’s plans to cut funding for creative and performing arts subjects in English universities in a letter to the prime minister.

In the letter to Boris Johnson, the unions call on the government to halt plans that would prioritise the allocation of funding to “subjects vital to the economy and labour markets”.

According to the unions, including the University and College Union (UCU), Unite, Unison and Equity UK, the proposed reduction in funding threatens the “health and accessibility of the entertainment and education sectors, jeopardises the livelihoods of HE and creative workers, and narrows training opportunities for future generations”.

In January, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said performing arts, creative arts, media studies and archaeology should see their previous high-cost subject funding cut by 50 per cent, in guidance on the allocation of teaching grant funding for the 2021-22 financial year.

In their letter, the unions, which also include Bectu, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and the Musicians’ Union, say the impact that this would have on non-specialist post-92 universities is of “particular concern” because some of the universities most vulnerable to the cut “enrol considerable numbers of local students from low socioeconomic backgrounds”.

The cut would also likely have a huge impact on disabled students because creative subjects have the largest proportion of these students in England, and black and minority ethnic groups “will be disproportionately affected”, the unions say.

The Russell Group has calculated that affected courses will run at an average deficit of £2,870 per student per year and said that many will likely become unviable, the letter points out.

There are also additional concerns that the cut would be coupled with a reduction in the tuition fee cap – from £9,250 to £7,500 – and a recent Times Higher Education analysis suggests that such a change would represent a major loss of income for some institutions.

“The result will be to limit the availability of affordable HE courses and see potential future students financially edged out of creative training,” says the letter, which predicts that the cut will lead to geographical “cold spots”, severely limiting options for those who are unable to move away from home to study, according to the unions.

Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary, said the teaching grant reductions “would devastate arts and entertainment provision in higher education, risk widespread job losses and severely reduce access to students”.

“As our letter makes clear, the institutions most vulnerable to these cuts are those with a higher number of underprivileged students. It is simply unconscionable to deny these young people the chance to study subjects like art, drama and music,” she said.

“If funding is cut, current and future students lose out, because courses that are shut cannot be brought back to life at the drop of a hat. If the government continues down this track, we could be seeing one of the biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory. The government must cancel its proposed cuts and help protect an industry in which we are world leaders.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “High-quality provision in a range of subjects is critical for our workforce and our society. That is why we asked the Office for Students to allocate an additional £10m to our world-leading specialist providers, including several top arts institutions.

“The proposed reforms to the Strategic Priorities Grant are designed to target taxpayers’ money towards subjects that support the NHS, STEM, and the needs of the labour market.

“The reforms proposed only apply to the additional funding allocated towards some creative subjects, and for the providers potentially losing funding due to this reallocation the income lost would account for approximately 0.05 per cent of universities’ estimated total income.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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