The government is facing a backlash from some of the country’s most prominent artists and writers after revealing plans to slash funding for higher education arts courses by 50%.
The budget cuts follow a six-week consultation by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and the Office for Students, the independent regulator for higher education in England, that found arts education subjects were not “strategic priorities”.
The deadline for consultation on the budget cuts, which may come into effect during the 2021-22 academic year, is today. Other proposals include increased funding for courses “identified as supporting the NHS”, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
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The reduction in funding, which would affect performing and creative arts, media studies and archaeology courses, has been described by the Public Campaign for the Arts as “catastrophic” and “an attack on the future of UK arts”.
A petition opposing the cuts, launched on 5 May by the arts lobbying group, describes the reduction in funding as “a targeted attack on arts subjects” and has received more than 56,000 signatures.
“Artists and curators” are also “urging the government to reconsider”, The Art Newspaper adds, with the artist Bob and Roberta Smith telling the paper that the “truly appalling cuts to arts subjects will further divide society”. Artist Sarah Kogan wrote on Instagram that “a 50% cut to arts education is unthinkable. We believe the arts should absolutely be a strategic priority for the government.”
And Booker prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other author Bernardine Evaristo wrote on Twitter that “this tin-pot chumocratic government has its priorities all wrong”, adding: “An absurd £37bn on the failed Test & Trace, unlawfully awarded, now this awful assault on the arts in universities.”
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson told The Guardian that the proposal would “only affect the additional funding allocated towards some creative subjects” and would direct funding towards subjects that “support the skills this country needs to build back better”.
The government faced similar criticism in October last year when its Cyber First campaign, which encouraged people working in the arts to pursue a career in cybersecurity, resurfaced on social media. The advert showed a young ballerina with the caption “Fatima’s next job could be in tech”.
Secretary of State for Culture Oliver Dowden distanced himself from what he described as a “crass” advert. “I want to save jobs in the arts which is why we are investing £1.57bn,” he tweeted at the time.
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