Boris Johnson Plans 'Catastrophic' 50% Cut To Music And Arts Education Grant

“The UK’s world-leading status in music and the arts is placed in serious jeopardy by these cuts,” says union.
Young woman sitting at piano and learning to play
Young woman sitting at piano and learning to play
Peter Carruthers via Getty Images

Boris Johnson is on a collision course with creatives over his government’s plan to halve higher education grants for arts courses.

The Office for Students has proposed slashing funding for what it calls “high cost” studies at colleges and universities in the 2021-22 academic year.

Among the course subjects to see grant funding slashed by 50% include music, dance, drama and performing arts, art and design, media studies, and archaeology.

The government has said the subjects are no longer considered a “strategic priority” and it wants to further support maths, science and nursing courses.

The Musicians’ Union (MU) has said the proposal will be “catastrophic” and Labour says students, teachers and creatives have “deep anxiety” about where it will leave the arts sector.

Labour shadow ministers Jo Stevens and Kate Green have now written to culture secretary Oliver Dowden and education secretary Gavin Williamson asking them to rip up the proposal.

The news came as the Home Office announced Oscar, Grammy and Nobel Prize-winners will be offered fast-track visas to settle in the UK. International stars who have won Bafta, Brit, Mobo, Tony or Golden Globe awards will also be eligible.

Chris Walters, the MU’s national organiser for education, said the support was “essential for producing the next generation of musicians and arts professionals”.

He added: “The notice for this cut is so short that it will likely cause chaos as courses are withdrawn at the last minute, affecting students who have already been accepted onto courses for autumn enrolment.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson
Education secretary Gavin Williamson
Press Association

“The cut will affect all students, but particularly those from less privileged backgrounds who may rely on local, less well funded institutions that cannot divert funds from elsewhere.

“The cut defies all economic logic, pulling the rug out from under our creative industries. These are worth £102bn to the UK economy per year, with music alone worth £5.8bn and supporting close to 200,000 jobs in 2019.

“The UK’s world-leading status in music and the arts is placed in serious jeopardy by these cuts.”

Stevens and Green’s letter to the ministers said: “To propose this cut while at the same time providing skilled visas for designers, artists and creative award winners in recognition of their economic contribution is both inconsistent and illogical.”

Labour said the cut would be “a false economy” and make it more difficult for students to develop skills for careers as graphic designers or directors.

In 2019, the music industry contributed £5.8bn to the UK economy, and Labour said access to and participation in creative industries, including music, arts and drama, improves mental health and wellbeing.

The letter said: “The proposed funding cut will make it harder for the creative industries – which have suffered from the dual impacts of the pandemic and the government’s incompetent management of Brexit – to bring through the next generation of talent stifling their recovery from the challenges of the last year.

“As we emerge from the collective trauma of Covid, further restricting individuals’ ability to study and access careers in these subjects risks undermining our world leading creative industries to the detriment of our economy and the country’s mental health and wellbeing.

“It will also pose a risk to the teaching jobs which many musicians and other creatives use to supplement the inconsistent income they receive from performing.

It adds: “We urge to reconsider this short-sight proposal and look forward to your urgent response on this matter.”

The Department for Education said the cut would affect “only a relatively small proportion of the income of higher education providers” and that more cash would reach STEM courses.

A spokesperson said: “The proposed reforms to the strategic priorities grant would only affect a small proportion of the income of higher education providers.

“High-quality provision in a range of subjects is critical for our workforce and our society. That is why we asked the Office for Students to allocate an additional £10m to our world-leading specialist providers, including several top arts institutions.

“Our proposed reforms only affect the additional funding allocated towards some creative subjects, and are designed to target taxpayers’ money towards the subjects which support the skills this country needs to build back better, such as those that support the NHS, high-cost STEM subjects.”

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