‘Tragic misstep’: arts education cuts risk UK cultural leadership, government told

The UK’s position as a cultural leader is at risk if proposed 50% cuts to arts subjects at universities go ahead, arts sector leaders have told the government in an open letter opposing the move.

The letter – organised by the Contemporary Visual Arts Network and signed by 300 art world figures, insluitend Sonia Boyce and the directors of all four Tate locations – said the plan to halve the amount spent on some arts subjects was a “tragic misstep”.

The current plan would affect courses – including music, dans, drama and performing arts; art and design; media studies; and archaeology – that were deemed to not be “strategic priorities” after a consultation by the Office for Students (OfS) and the education secretary, Gavin Williamson.

“The current proposal may limit the availability and accessibility of places on arts courses and result in fewer courses being offered,” the letter reads.

“This will have a detrimental impact on our ability to retain our world leading position, attract inward investment through our cultural capital and our share of the global art market.”

The letter added that the plan was a “strategic misstep” and contradicted the Department for Digital, Kultuur, Media and Sport’s strategy laid out in its Here for Culture campaign.

Signatories included Maria Balshaw, the director of Tate, Ralph Rugoff, the director of the Hayward Gallery, and dozens of academics and artists from around the UK, including Boyce, who will represent Britain at this year’s Venice Biennale.

The letter asked that the policy is revoked in order to ensure the continuation of “a UK success story”.

“If you believe that innovation is a strategic priority, you will not cut higher education funding to the arts – but better recognise our value as integral to the fourth Industrial Revolution,” it stated.

The cuts will come from an overall teaching budget of £1.47bn, with a student on an affected course seeing their funding fall from £243 to £121.50. Signatories of the letter and other opponents of the proposal, including musician Jarvis Cocker, have said that will deter those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and leave arts subjects as the preserve of wealthy students.

An OfS spokesperson said: “The proposed changes relate to a small fraction of how these courses are funded, equating to a reduction of £120 per student, of 1% of overall funding. Alongside this we plan to maintain funds to support disadvantaged students, and to boost funding for specialist institutions by £10m.

“The OfS has a fixed funding budget that is set by government. This will have to stretch further in the coming years with significant growth forecast in student numbers – particularly for courses that are expensive to teach like medicine and nursing. In this context we need to make difficult decisions about how to prioritise our increasingly constrained budget. We will carefully consider all responses to our consultation before making any final decisions on changes to our funding.”

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