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ISM writes to Education Secretary on higher education funding cuts for music and creative art subjects

Updated 11 August 2021

Today, 11 August 2021, we have written to Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson in response to the decision to reduce high-cost subject funding in higher education (HE) by 50 per cent for academic year 2021-22, and to urge him to delay the implementation of this change .

The ISM’s concern is primarily how to ensure these changes do not impact the quality and availability of arts courses to students from all backgrounds. We have offered to provide any assistance in developing proposals which could help reduce the detrimental impact of these funding cuts.

In the letter ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts, stressed the harm this change could do to 'the talent pipeline for the UK’s world leading creative industries - a sector worth £111bn to the UK economy – which has already suffered heavily during the pandemic.'

The letter also highlights the confirmation of this change just a few weeks before the start of the academic year in which they take effect, gives HE providers virtually no time to plan for, or mitigate, their impact on students. We have urged Government that if they are determined to press ahead with these damaging cuts to arts courses, that they reconsider the timeframe for their implementation, delaying until at least 2022-23.

Confirmation of Higher Education Arts funding cuts

Following a Government consultation published in May 2021 on proposals to halve funding for arts subjects, we are extremely disappointed to see this decision has been confirmed. This is despite major opposition to these cuts from music and creative sector organisations and a petition from the Public Campaign for the Arts which gathered over 166,000 signatures.

Office for Students have published their analysis of the consultation which included the following statistics:

95% of respondents to the consultation strongly disagreed with the proposal to implement a reduction of 50% to the high-cost subject funding allocated to subjects in the performing arts; creative arts; media studies and archaeology. More than 50% of responses were critical of the proposal to remove London weighting.

We expressed our strong opposition to these funding cuts to Government and raised concerns that the consultation lacked the breadth and scale necessary for proposals of this nature and called for a parliamentary debate on this urgent issue.

We believed, and still do, that it is essential that these funding cuts do not go ahead unless a thorough consultation and supplementary proposals from Government can effectively investigate and allay the concerns of our sector.

    Responding to the funding cuts, ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts said:

    'These cuts will have a devastating impact on the provision and accessibility of creative arts education. It is a huge blow to our sector, which is already struggling immensely due to the pandemic and Brexit.

    The Government’s decision to implement these changes, despite warnings from the ISM and others, will lead to a divisive hierarchy of subjects, be harmful to diversity and inclusion, and the knock-on impact for the talent pipeline will be felt for years to come.

    We are extremely concerned about the impact these changes will have, in terms of narrowing opportunities to study music and other creative subjects.'

    Our external affairs team will continue to lobby the Department for Education on this critical issue and to request a formal explanation on why this decision was made.

    We will be calling for the Government to pause the implementation of this change for at least one year. It is currently due to come into effect from the start of the next academic year – just a few weeks away. This will give education providers and students very little time to prepare for the impact of this change and no time for the Government to investigate and put in place other measures which might mitigate the impact of these cuts on accessibility and provision.

    Government's proposal to halve arts funding

    For the 2021-22 school year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has proposed halving funding for 'high cost' subjects that are not considered a 'strategic priority'. The budget for these subjects, including many creative subjects, would be cut from £36m to £19m in higher education establishments like universities and colleges.

    It is our view that creative subjects make a huge contribution to the nation’s wealth, health & well-being. They are essential for the UK, not 'low priority' in education. We believe that the Government has a responsibility to protect the pipeline of future talent for the cultural industries by properly funding music and other creative subjects. After the challenges presented by the pandemic, music must be supported at all levels of education rather than abandoned.

    Our response

    In our response to the Government's consultation, we have argued that the proposals to reduce funding for performing and creative arts creates an unnecessary and divisive hierarchy of subjects. If implemented, they will be devastating to education provision and have long-term consequences for our world-leading music sector that was worth £5.8 billion to the UK economy in 2019.

    Furthermore, we have also raised moral and practical objections to this savage attack on universities and colleges. Research shows that many of the subjects under threat have impressive records on diversity and inclusion, particularly for students with a reported disability. Similarly, the data also shows that removing additional funding for studying in London would disproportionately affect students from minority ethnic backgrounds. For a Government that has spoken about the importance of 'levelling up' the country and improving social mobility, destroying an accessibility success story would be counter-productive. Finally, the proposals have been announced far too late to enable institutions to plan adequately for courses starting in September 2021.