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Education Secretary must scrap proposed cuts to arts funding say cross-party MPs and peers

May 27, 2021 2:46 PM

Sarah Olney ()Liberal Democrats Business spokesperson, Sarah Olney MP, has led a group of 51 MPs and Peers in calling for Gavin Williamson to issue new guidance to the Office for Students (OfS) and reconsider the proposed 50% cuts to the high-cost subject funding of arts subjects.

In a letter sent to the OfS, the Secretary proposed cutting residual funding in half for Higher Education (HE) subjects not amongst the Government's "strategic priorities" in England.

Courses in music, dance, drama and performing arts, art and design, media studies and archaeology will therefore, under the proposals, suffer a 50% cut to their 'high-cost subject funding', which is provided for subjects with higher teaching costs.

Independent campaign group Public Campaign for the Arts, whose efforts Sarah is supporting, has launched a petition calling for the proposal to be scrapped which currently has over 160,000 signatures.

Sarah Olney Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park said:

"This is about what kind of message we as a nation are sending about how we value arts subjects. Without this kind of state support, creative skills development will be largely inaccessible to those from working class and otherwise marginalised backgrounds. Not only will we be reinforcing existing, harmful barriers to entry, but the Government will be directly contradicting its own levelling-up agenda.

"Generating over £111 billion a year, our creative industries are economically vital to our country. But beyond the clear economic imperative, there is a cultural cost to what the Secretary is proposing. England is a world-leader in the arts and that is why we are urging him to reconsider his approach."

Jack Gamble, Director of Public Campaign for the Arts says:

"We are pleased that Sarah Olney and a cross-party group of MPs and peers have joined over 160,000 supporters of the Public Campaign for the Arts to urge a rethink on this damaging proposal. We are proud of the UK's creativity and want it to be championed, not cut.

"Arts and creative courses are life-enriching, and they also underpin much of our globally successful creative industries, which before the pandemic were growing five times faster than the UK economy as a whole. For these courses to remain viable and widely accessible, they must be properly supported by the Government."

Copy of the letter and signers:

Dear Gavin,

We are deeply concerned about the proposal, outlined in your letter to the Office for Students (OfS), to cut residual funding in half for Higher Education (HE) subjects not amongst the Government's strategic priorities in England. Courses in music, dance, drama and performing arts, art and design, media studies and archaeology will suffer a 50% cut to their 'high-cost subject funding', provided for subjects with higher teaching costs. In writing to you we echo the anxieties of over 155,000 people across the country who have signed a petition launched by the Public Campaign for the Arts, which calls on you to stop the 50% funding cut to these subjects in HE.

The proposed cut sends a damaging message about the place and value of the arts, undermining students and HE providers who are active in these disciplines or might wish to be. While the OfS consultation document states that '[c]ourses in the performing arts, creative arts, media studies and archaeology are very important, bringing huge benefit to society and our culture, as well as to the individuals who take them', this is not sufficiently reflected in the outcomes of the proposed funding method. Although most funding for arts courses comes from tuition fees, OfS funding is important for many HE providers to meet the higher costs of teaching. We agree that investment in STEM and healthcare subjects is of great importance for the delivery of vital public services and maintenance of the UK's position as a leader in science and innovation. However, such investment should not come at the expense of investment in other valuable high-cost subjects such as the creative and performing arts, in which the United Kingdom is also a world leader.

Before the pandemic, the creative industries were growing five times faster than the UK economy as a whole and generating over £111 billion a year. Without proper investment in the creative skills underpinning our world-leading creative industries, we risk losing the benefits they bring to our health, society, and economy, and limiting the talent pipeline. The proposed funding cut will inevitably result in fewer arts courses being offered by HE providers, and subsequently fewer opportunities for participation in these areas. Quite simply, it does not fulfil the OfS' duties, as enshrined in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, to promote 'greater choice and opportunities for students' and 'equality of opportunity in connection with access to and participation in higher education'.

We are also concerned that the proposed cuts to arts subjects will negatively impact diversity and inclusion in HE and in the cultural sector. Creative skills development will become the preserve of those less reliant on educational opportunities supported by the Government. The changes may also disproportionately and adversely affect students with a disability, with cognitive or learning difficulties, and with poor mental health. As the OfS consultation document points out, subjects such as design, creative and performing arts, media, journalism and communications attract higher proportions of such students. The document also points out that such subjects attract fewer students from African, Caribbean, Asian and other ethnically diverse backgrounds. Cuts to these subjects will reinforce the barriers that already exist, undermining the Government's diversity and levelling-up agendas.

The proposed cut would also come into effect from this September. This will cause considerable difficulties as courses are cancelled just before they begin, leaving students who have been accepted without the future they are currently working towards.

In light of the impact of COVID-19 on students and HE providers, the size of the proposed cut, the notice being given for it, and the quality and extent of the consultation that has taken place, we urge you to issue new guidance to the Office for Students and to reconsider the 50% cut to high-cost subject funding of arts subjects. These are valuable and necessary courses which, instead of being deprioritised, deserve the Government's continued support.

Given the uncertainty faced by HE institutions over the last year, we look forward to a swift response.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park

Mick Whitley MP

Mohammad Yasin MP

Paul Blomfield MP

Kim Johnson MP

Clive Lewis MP

Olivia Blake MP

Claudia Webbe MP

Stephen Farry MP

Sarah Champion MP

Caroline Lucas MP

Kate Osborne MP

Andrew Gwynne MP

Paula Barker MP

Zarah Sultana MP

Jamie Stone MP

Daisy Cooper MP

Ed Davey MP

Layla Moran MP

Wendy Chamberlain MP

Christine Jardine MP

Alistair Carmichael MP

Wera Hobhouse MP

Munira Wilson MP

Tim Farron MP

Baroness Massey of Darwen

Baroness Harris

Lord Foster

Lord Strasburger

Baroness Grender

Baroness Featherstone

Baroness Bonham-Carter

Lord McNally

Lord Bradshaw

Baroness Randerson

Lord Fox

Lord Chidgey

Lord Tyler

Lord Storey

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Lord Thomas of Gresford

Lord Clement-Jones

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

Baroness Kramer

Lord Beith

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

Lord Oates

Baroness Burt of Solihull

Lord Newby

Lord Dholakia

Lord Stunell