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Gavin Williiamson, UK’s Secretary of State for Education. Photo: Hidden Harms Summit/Flickr.
Gavin Williiamson, UK’s Secretary of State for Education. Photo: Hidden Harms Summit/Flickr.

UK Government Halves Arts Funding in Higher Education

Dealing a transformative blow to the country’s cultural status, the UK government is slashing spending on the arts in higher education by a gutting 50 percent and awarding the spoils to science and medicine. The idea of severely reducing funding for subjects related to arts and culture was introduced earlier this year by education secretary Gavin Williamson, who cited the Covid-19 crisis as one reason for the shift in allocation within a budget that is actually slightly higher than that of the previous year. Williamson pointed to an Office for Students (OFS) assessment of the arts as “high cost” and of lesser priority than subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which it also deemed to be “high cost” but of “high value.”

More than 166,000 people had signed a petition launched by the Public Campaign for the Arts against the cultural-education funding cuts, after the OFS said that it would take into consideration responses from universities and students before making a decision. The efforts of those protesting proved to be of no avail, however, with the OFS confirming the cuts on July 20. The budget reduction, from £36 million ($50 million) to £19 million ($26 million), affects courses including dance, drama, performing arts, media studies, art and design, and archaeology.

“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,” said Williamson in a statement.

“This drastic cut to creative arts funding is one of the biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory,” said Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union. “It will be hugely damaging for access, creating geographical cold spots as many courses become unviable.” Grady noted that the universities most vulnerable to the cuts are those with a higher number of less-affluent students, calling the government’s denying them the chance to study subjects like art, drama, and music “unconscionable.”