Government makes a “misstep” in cutting funding
It was illuminating to read Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s comments in an article in which he wrote of “dead end” university courses that “leave young people with nothing but debt.” The piece, published by Conservative Home, came just days after the Government announced plans for an almost 50% cut to the £39 million budget set aside for creative arts and design subjects in the Strategic Priorities Grant given to universities. Williamson said the proposed legislation will “strengthen the ability of the Office for Students (OfS) to crack down on low quality courses,” adding that the planned reforms would “open the way” for the record number of people taking up science and engineering.
The Education Secretary’s comments were slammed by an NUS spokesperson as “out of touch” and “galling.” Creatives from every area of the arts have criticised the planned cuts, with claims that the UK’s position as a cultural leader is at risk if they go ahead. An open letter, organised by the Contemporary Visual Arts Network, and signed by 300 world art figures, including the directors of all four Tate locations, described the reforms as a “strategic misstep.” The cuts would affect courses in most arts sectors, all described as “not strategic priorities,” following consultations between Williamson and the OfS.
But individuals and organisations are voicing their protests. Former Pulp frontman and now solo artist, Jarvis Cocker, actor Maxine Peake, author Bernadine Evaristo and Grammy winning composer, David Arnold, are amongst many speaking out with Evaristo describing the plan as “catastrophic”, and an “awful assault on the arts in universities”. As protests grew, the Department of Education attempted to calm the situation, claiming that the reforms would only affect a “small proportion” of the income of higher education institutions in “some creative subjects”. A spokesperson said the move would “target taxpayer’s money towards subjects which support the skills this country needs to build back better”.
What no one mentioned was that the cultural sector contributed £34.6bn to the UK economy in 2019, an increase of 27% since 2010. This compares to an 18% rise in that period for the overall economy. It appears that Williamson and the Government have quickly forgotten how the arts – books, art, film, music, television and radio drama, to mention a few, have impacted the well-being of the nation during the long, stay-at-home months of lockdown.
What our surveys show
The arts: a short, two-word phrase that covers a variety of creative disciplines, which we can sometimes take for granted but generally rely upon in our day-to-day lives. Those actors we love to watch, the musicians we listen to, the artists, the designers, those skilled directors, the graphic and sound designers, the technicians, the entire behind-the-scenes crew, and so on and so on; most of them trained at specialist colleges or university.
Their work contributes to most people’s lives. And the importance we give to it is reflected in the answers to our first question, with a strong majority, 66%, saying the arts are either “very important” or “fairly important.” Just 18% felt the arts are “not very important” and 5% said they are “not important at all,” whilst 11% answered “don’t know.” And more of us than not, 58%, “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the Government’s plan to cut spending on arts courses at universities because they are not “strategic priorities.” Only 5% said they strongly agree with the cuts proposed by the Government with a further 26% saying they “agree.” And once again 11% said they “don’t know.”