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Arts funding cuts at higher education levels to go ahead in England

Following a public consultation, in which Theatre Workout strongly campaigned against the proposals, the independent regulator, Office for Students (OfS), has announced that proposed funding cuts for performing arts, creative arts and media studies at higher education levels in England will go ahead from September.

Announced in April, the proposal to cut funding by 50 per cent for university arts courses was met with fierce opposition by performers and artists, with stark warnings issued by Public Campaign for the Arts and National Drama.

The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said that he believes his recommendation to ‘reprioritise’ money away from arts towards STEM, medicine and healthcare subjects is ‘justified to support government priorities’.

The Creative Industries was, pre-pandemic, growing faster than most other sectors of the economy, outperforming the Oil and Gas, Life Sciences, Aerospace and Automotive industries combined by more than £30bn. Cutting funding to courses which supply this industry poses an economic risk, let alone a creative and cultural shortfall, which could jeapodise the industries world-class reputation and leadership.

Among many concerns, the consultation raised concerns that the cuts will disproportionately affect disabled, Black, Asian and minority ethnic students and students from low socio-economic backgrounds by providing another barrier to higher education.

Dr Jo Grady, General Secretary of the University and College Union, called it an 'act of vandalism' and said: 'This drastic cut to creative arts funding is one of the biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory.

'It will be hugely damaging for access, creating geographical cold spots as many courses become unviable – including at institutions in the capital where London weighting funding is being removed.

'The universities most vulnerable are those with a higher number of less well-off students and it is unconscionable to deny them the chance to study subjects like art, drama and music.'

The OfS says that the reduction is equivalent to around 1 per cent of the combined course fee and OfS funding, those in opposition have argued that the cuts threaten the ‘financial viability’ of courses, which specifically target 'high-cost' courses such as Drama, Dance and Music.

However, the OfS confirmed that specialists providers - including performing arts conservatoires - will receive a combined additional injection of £10m in funding.

Williamson writes that: ‘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.’

Theatre Workout is continuing to campaign to raise the status of Drama in Schools and across the education system with the Drama & Theatre Education Alliance (DTEA).

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