UK government approves 50% funding cut for arts and design courses

The UK government is moving ahead with plans to cut funding for art and design courses by 50% across higher education institutions in England. The Office for Students (Ofs)—the independent regulator of higher education—confirmed that the subsidy for each full-time student on an arts course will be cut from £243 to £121.50 next academic year (2021/22). The move will save around £20m, says the education secretary Gavin Williamson.​

The University and Colleges Union says that students across 13 subject areas would be affected including art, design, music, drama, dance, media studies and journalism. “These courses face a 50% cut to their studies, which will make many unviable, forcing them to close,” the union wrote on Twitter.​

A spokesman for the University of the Arts London says that in the long term, creative education in the UK as a whole will suffer a decline in quality as a result of these cuts. "This undermines the government’s commitment to the creative industries. Vulnerable institutions are therefore likely to be forced to reduce investment in high-cost technology and technical support. This will affect student preparedness for the workplace," he adds.​

“Devaluing the arts disempowers us as a society leaving us poorer, both culturally and economically. Arts education provides not only a place for teaching, but also essential centres of research,” says the artist Sarah Kogan on Instagram. The artist Bob and Roberta Smith previously told The Art Newspaper that these are "truly appalling cuts to arts subjects which will further divide society".​

In a statutory “guidance” letter to the Ofs, published in January, the education secretary Gavin Williamson said that “the Ofs should reprioritise funding towards the provision of high-cost, high-value subjects that support the NHS... high-cost STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]”.​

The advocacy organisation Public Campaign for the Arts subsequently launched a petition calling for the government to commit to “proper funding for higher education providers to continue to deliver world-leading arts courses”; so far it has garnered more than 166,000 signatures.​

A spokesman for the Ofs confirmed the 50% decrease in funding but adds that “this reduction is equivalent to around one per cent of the combined course fee [tuition fee of £9,250 and top-up grant] and OfS funding. There is no change to how these subjects are treated for other Ofs funding streams, such as the additional premiums awarded to universities and colleges to support disadvantaged students.”​

Funding for specialist institutions will increase by £10m to £53m, he adds, with additional grants allocated to a number of institutions such as the Royal College of Art in London and the Courtauld Institute of Art.​