Funding cuts for arts universities to go ahead, OfS confirms

Proposals to slash a specific funding stream directed at high-cost subjects like art, design and music in half were announced earlier this year.


The Office for Students (OfS) has said the proposed 50% cut to university arts funding will go ahead as planned, despite opposition.

The plans relate to the subsidy currently provided to universities to help deliver “subjects that are expensive to teach”, according to the OfS. For arts subjects, this subsidy currently works out at around £243 per full-time student annually. Under the new plans, this is being reduced to £121.50.

England’s universities regulator confirmed the roll out of the cuts in a statement on funding reforms.

“Destructive and short-sighted”

Plans to slash a specific budget stream targeted at “high-cost” university subjects like art, design and music were made public earlier this year.

The news drew passionate criticism from those in the creative industries, as well as arts university staff. Talking to Design Week at the time, design leaders called the plans “destructive” and “short-sighted”.

A survey from the Public Campaign for the Arts also suggests the decision is unpopular among the majority of the British public – some 57% of respondents wanted education secretary Gavin Williamson to abandon budget cut plans.

“More like ‘punching down’ than ‘levelling up'”

The decision, which will see money redirected to more “strategically important” subjects like medicine and STEM, is being justified as a small budget reform. The OfS insists the reduction is the equivalent of around 1% of the combined course fee and OfS funding.

However, the regulator has also confirmed that London universities will have their weighting cut under the reforms. This will result in a significant reduction in funding for many of the capital’s leading arts education establishments.

Speaking to the Guardian, Goldsmiths, University of London warden Professor Frances Corner said this decision would mean a funding loss of £2 million to the university each year.

“This announcement takes an axe to creative arts education and threatens to have a devastating impact on London universities and their surrounding communities,” she said. “With our home borough of Lewisham being among England’s poorest areas, the withdrawal of this funding looks more like ‘punching down’ than ‘levelling up’.”

“Reflecting priorities that have emerged in the light of the pandemic”

In a letter to the OfS confirming the reforms, as reported in the Guardian, the education secretary said: “These changes will help ensure that increased grant funding is directed towards high-cost provision that supports key industries and the delivery of vital public services, reflecting priorities that have emerged in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.”

However as new Creative Industries Federation data reveals, the UK’s creative industries could create 300,000 new jobs by 2025 and contribute £132.1 billion to the economy in GVA if invested in properly.

A “dismissive attitude” towards the arts

And as other arts university leaders have previously commented in Design Week, the funding cuts represent just one part of a wider issue.

Earlier this month, Kingston University vice chancellor Steven Spier explained: “That the government considers arts subjects as ‘not of strategic importance’ is concerning.”

Spier said the continued “dismissive” attitude towards the arts from the government was just as damaging as the cuts themselves.

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Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • andrew bainbridge July 21, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    With out the arts and culture you have no meaningful society or civilisation to speak of….philistines.

  • Stephen Bell July 28, 2021 at 12:17 am

    This is outrageous! And yet hardly any comments from the design industry here. I think it’s in part apathy from a self absorbed industry but also because you have a very odd and unnecessary way of allowing posts on your site Design Week. I mean really, just let the conversation flow without all the approval and sign up stuff!

  • Carl St. James July 28, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Its quite sickening really. The same has happened in secondary schools with the view that students can specialise post-16 once they have done their GCSE’s. How are they supposed to do that now?

    The funding arguement remains flawed because the government sold off all student debt prior to 2009 and due to 30-year write offs taxpayers money won’t be used to actually pay for these writeoffs until 2046. This won’t happen because the government will have sold off more debt by then. Higher education is currently funded through the creation of debt, not allocation of public funds.

    In a proper free and democratic society students should be free to study whatever interests them regardless of job potential. A proper right-wing government would keep its noses out of what students want to study but Williamson’s authoritarian grasp on the whole education system is at odds with this ideology. This should worry conservative backbenchers.

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