Cutting the funding for creative education won’t help the economy

Arts graduates are critical to rebuilding the economy. Vivienne Hurley, Director of Research, Innovation and Knowledge Exchange from Goldsmiths, University of London, warns the Government not to cut funding for creative education.

Creative education is at risk

Many of you will be aware of the Office for Students (OfS) consultation on recurrent funding for 2021-22.

It has been proposed that the amount spent on “high cost” higher education arts subjects in England should be cut from £36m to £19m. This is in order to find additional funding for subjects in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM).

STEM subjects are important to the health and economic wellbeing of the UK. They have also had a degree funding deficit for a while – a deficit that won’t be solved by this partial uplift.

My problem is that the uplift is at the expense of creative education – music, dance, the performing arts, art and design, media studies and archaeology – on the grounds that these disciplines are not “strategic priorities.”

It does not make sense to give this label to these disciplines.

Creative graduates are central to employment in the creative sector, making up virtually half of its graduate workforce.

It is not surprising that representative bodies for the creative sector are concerned about this proposed cut, especially when there are already skills shortages in certain parts of this sector.

Creative education supports the economy

In its plan for growth, the Government said that the creative industries were one of its priority sectors.

Before the pandemic, the creative sector was growing at four times the rate of the UK economy as a whole. It was creating jobs at three times the rate of the UK average. It made greater gross-value added (GVA) contributions than the aerospace, automatic, life sciences, and oil and gas sectors combined.

In my role as Director of Research, Innovation and Knowledge Exchange at Goldsmiths, University of London – one of the leading universities for the creative and digital sectors – I hear the concerns that the creative industries have about the impact of this cut.

My university is also worried that it raises the prospect of increased tuition fees. This might prevent students from low-income backgrounds taking these courses. This would run counter to everything my university and others are seeking to achieve.

The creative industries are also highly concentrated in London. Therefore, the OfS consultation proposal to remove London weighting for London higher education providers in the capital – many of whom offer creative education degrees – is effectively a ‘double whammy.’

No wonder representatives from the creative industries are concerned that this will hinder their efforts to rebuild one of the UK’s most productive sectors. This in turn has worrying implications for the UK economy as a whole.

The Government clearly does not understand the link between creative higher education and the creative industries. Nor does it appear to understand that creativity is going to be even more future-proof in the job market, given that it is resistant to automation.

The Government also needs to recognise the need to increase the funding available for higher education. The uplift to STEM subjects should not be at the expense of creative education or London universities. It also fails to fully address the deficit STEM subjects face.

There is a clear disconnect between the Government’s commitment to the creative industries, whilst cutting its talent pipeline. Creative education providers and representatives from the creative industries have already been vocal in making their case to the Government, and will be continuing and renewing these efforts.

It is equally counter-intuitive to cut higher education when trying to recover from a recession. Yet, it sounds increasingly likely that further cuts are on their way given the reports that government ministers are minded to reduce higher education funding in the next Spending Review.

Creative education needs our help

How can we show the Government that such a move would damage its plans to ‘build back better?’

Let’s not forget that the higher education sector can be a powerful group when it sings with one voice. The Government’s decision to associate to Horizon Europe proved this. Therefore, the sector needs to work together to strengthen its case, and communicate it more effectively to the Government.

This is not without its challenges.

British universities have a shortage of friends, and lack allies, particularly in Whitehall, as Nick Hillman said recently on the Higher Education Policy Institute blog.

He recommended that higher education institutions should be “searching out and emphasising areas where universities’ interests and the Government’s interests closely align – perhaps in levelling up, or civic engagement, or greater provision of Level 4 and Level 5 courses, or closer collaboration with FE colleges, or rejuvenating town centres, or research breakthroughs.”

This is not a bad place to start.

Vivienne Hurley is the Director of Research, Innovation and Knowledge Exchange at Goldsmiths, University of London.