Proposed 50% cut to arts education in the UK labelled ‘catastrophic’ by universities

UK artists and musicians are enraged as the government announces its plans to cut funding for arts education at universities by a “catastrophic” 50%.

Following a consultation with the Office for Students (OfS), the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, suggested the 50% cuts to “high cost” arts subjects at UK universities. According to Williamson, the decision to cut program funding was motivated by the opinion that the arts were not a “strategic priority” for the UK after the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The cuts, which would come into effect this autumn, have been described as neglecting the country’s “cultural national health” by UK artists and musicians. 

Singer and former Pulp frontman, Jarvis Cocker, condemned the government’s plans, suggesting that the budget cuts would effectively bar lower-income students from pursuing arts education. 

“I think it will really just put off people from a certain background and that’s a pity because it’s about mixing with people with different ideas, and then you get this cross pollination of stuff that makes things happen,” said Cocker. 

The government’s revised budget would cut arts education – labelled as ‘non-prioritised’ subjects – from £36m to £19m. The money would then be reallocated to subjects such as nursing and computing. 

Higher education institutions devoted to the arts are specifically at risk under the revised budget plan. The University of the Arts London, for example, is set to lose nearly £4m under the new proposals. 

Cocker, who attended Central Saint Martins at the University of the Arts London in the 80s, said, “it always seems to be that it’s arts education that seems to be this expendable thing, as if it’s not important, and it is.” 

“We know that we need to train doctors and nurses in order to maintain our physical national health. Equally, we need to train artists, musicians, designers in order to maintain our cultural national health,” added set designer and fellow UAL alumni, Es Devlin

According to the Musician’s Union, students, employers, and educators had mere days to justify the necessity of arts education ahead of the May 6 government decision due to coronavirus restriction. 

“The cuts will be catastrophic for most music provision at university level, affecting the financial viability of music courses and training for the next generation of musicians,” said Christ Walters, the MU’s national organiser for education. 

“Music was worth £5.8bn to the UK economy in 2019, which depends on properly funded university provision. The UK’s world-leading status in music and the arts could be in serious jeopardy from these cuts,” added Walters. 

In response to the public’s backlash, a Department for Education spokesperson said that the budget cuts would only affect a small portion of income to UK universities. 

“Our proposed reforms only affect that additional funding allocated towards some creative subjects, and are designed to target taxpayers’ money towards the subjects which support the skills this country needs to build back better,” added the DfE spokesperson. 

Despite the DfE’s statement, however, a petition in opposition to the budget cuts has been put forth by the Public Campaign for the Arts, calling the proposals, “an attack on the future of the UK arts, the creative potential of the next generation.”

The petition is currently backed by the Musician’s Union, and the Russell Group – including University College London, who is set to lose nearly £6m in funding to the proposed budget cuts.

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