Plans to slash arts funding by 50% have been labelled “destructive” and “short-sighted” by university heads speaking to Design Week.
A consultation lead by the Office for Students (OfS) and education secretary Gavin Williamson has proposed halving the amount spent on “high cost” higher education subjects like design, art, music and drama.
The justification is that these subjects and those like them are not considered “strategic priorities” for the government and country. These cuts would make way for high-cost subjects that are priorities, such as medicine, veterinary science, other sciences and IT.
Funding could shrink from £36m to £19m
According to the report, courses in the arts are “very important” – they bring “huge benefit to society and our culture”, and many are relevant to professions in the government’s “shortage occupation list”.
Under the plans however, spending for these non-prioritised subjects will be cut from £36 million to just £19 million.
Certain institutions, especially those focused primarily on the arts, stand to lose millions in funding. The University of the Arts London, for example, could lose almost £4 million a year if plans go ahead, according to a Guardian report.
“Arts subjects play such a vital role in development”
Hugh Harwood, programme director for graphic design, illustration and animation at University for the Creative Arts (UCA) Canterbury, takes issue with the distinction between “high cost” pathways.
“Surely, in relation to the pandemic we have all been so gravely impacted by, it is the development of our young people’s creativity and resilience that will drive the recovery and evolve a more sustainable way forward,” he says. “It is these “high cost” arts subjects that play such a vital role in this development for all of these future creative practitioners.”
Design Council head of policy impact and communications Kapila Perera adds that the demarcation between priority subjects and non-priority isn’t reflective of the numbers.
“Design Council’s research shows that workers with design skills contribute £209 billion to the economy annually and are 47% more productive than the average worker,” he says.
“Immense for society as a whole”
Perera says the proposed cuts run contrary to the government’s plans to “Build Back Better”. “If we want to level up the country and export UK design, we need to be investing substantially in design education and skills to ensure we have a highly adept and a more diverse set of future designers,” he says.
Polly Macpherson, associate head at the School of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Plymouth also says the pandemic makes this a “bizarre” time to be contemplating cuts to arts. “One of the things Covid has done is that it’s made people become a lot more aware of the importance of creativity in their lives,” she says.
“Reducing funding to the arts would have a massive impact on not only who could afford to ‘get involved’, but also how this might affect those who can’t – the consequence could be immense for society as a whole,” she adds.