Did You Miss This? 100 Percent Funding Cuts to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Courses at UK Universities


In almost all the coverage of the coalition government’s proposed cuts to university funding, as a result of a review conducted by Lord Browne, the former CEO of BP (whose qualifications for such a role have never been adequately explained), it has been noted that the reduction in funding announced in George Osborne’s comprehensive spending review — from £7.1 bn to £4.2 bn — amounts to a 40 percent cut, to be replaced by increases in fees, from the current rate of £3,290 a year to anywhere between £6,000 and £9,000 a year.

Largely unnoticed, however, is a disturbing sub-text. Because the government has ring-fenced funding for band A and B subjects (science, engineering, technology and maths), subjects in bands C and D (arts, humanities and social sciences) will lose 100 percent of their funding. As the education minister David Willetts explained to the House of Commons business committee on October 26, the teaching grant for band C and D subjects would, in the BBC’s words, “be all but wiped out.”

According to an analysis of the government’s plans conducted by the National Union of Students, 24 universities could lose all their funding, including ten in London: the London School of Economics (LSE), the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Goldsmiths College, the Institute of Education, Central School of Speech and Drama, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama and the Courtauld Institute of Art. Ignored in these results, for some reason, are the University of the Arts London (including the London College of Fashion and the London College of Communication), and the Royal College of Art, and, in addition, numerous other universities offering courses in art, humanities and social sciences will also lose all their funding for these courses.

In response to the analysis, NUS president Aaron Porter said, “Universities across the country that do not meet the government’s arbitrary definition of usefulness, but nonetheless transform and enrich our economy and society, are to be brutalised.”

This was accurate, revealing the gulf between the government’s belief that supposedly utilitarian subjects should be funded for the good of society, but that the arts, humanities and social sciences — a vast area of study including English literature, law, history, foreign languages, information technology, psychology and social studies, as well as all aspects of art, drama and music — are somehow irrelevant to society as a whole.

The truth, as identified by Porter, is that they do indeed “transform and enrich our economy and society,” as part of the very infrastructure of society in the public sector, and as an intrinsic part of the “creative industries” that are such a crucial — and growing — part of the UK economy, both in terms of the commerically successful organizations that attract the attention of ministers, and the vast number of self-employed creative people — myself included — who play a largely self-sufficient role in the creation of jobs in post-industrial Britain.

Sadly, the full extent of the impact of what Charlotte Higgins described in the Guardian as a “dark new philistinism” has not yet been even remotely explored in the mainstream media, where far too many journalists — like the ministers advocating these cuts — conveniently overlook the fact that they benefitted immensely from attending university at a time when higher education was adequately funded, when grants encouraged poorer people to attend university, and the entire sector was regarded as being of use to society as a whole, rather than as some sort of selfish lifestyle choice.

I await cries of horror from other journalists and authors, from artists, actors and historians, lawyers, psychologists and social workers, all of whom appear, at present, to be sadly mute on the axing of funds to the courses from which they — and society — benefitted without accruing potentially paralyzing debts of anywhere between £35,000 and £60,000.

Last week, however, the Guardian at least began to touch on some of the follies of the government’s plans in a fascinating article in which Paul Thompson, rector of the Royal College of Art — “whose alumni include the artists Chris Ofili and Tracey Emin, the industrial designer Sir James Dyson, as well as Burberry’s creative director, Christopher Bailey” — explained how the government has “swung a sledgehammer” into arts teaching, “warned that withdrawing funding for design courses puts the supply of talent for creative industries at risk,” and added that “the decision to prioritise science failed to recognise the collaborative way in which engineers work with designers.”

“The creativity of a designer takes an invention that might potentially lie on a laboratory bench, adds the design thinking, and that helps commercialise that idea,” Thompson said. “We’ve been talking to government and saying look at the number of design-led companies that have Royal College of Art graduates behind them, whether it’s Jaguar, Foster architects, or Burberry.” Worried that fees for postgraduate students “would have to rise dramatically to make up the shortfall in funding,” he added, “I think the government has swung a very heavy sledgehammer across the board, in trying to remove David Beckham studies, and swung this sledgehammer [at] a number of very important courses for the creative industries.”

This was an important point, obviously missed by Lord Browne and the government, when they decided to neatly compartmentalize university education into two stark categories — utilitarian and dilettante.

For another take on the fear that “undergraduate students facing higher debts will be reluctant to take on in-depth postgraduate study,” the Guardian spoke to Barry Ife, the principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who explained, “It takes time to develop an artist: in the case of singers, it’s a question of physical maturity as well as emotional and artistic maturity. It’s one thing for undergraduates to go out with £20,000 of debt, quite another thing to go out with £50-60,000. The real concern is not so much that we’re not going to have an undergraduate population, it’s what happens to the postgraduate population. It’s from that group that the really talented artists will emerge.”

He added that the withdrawal of funding “fails to recognise the intensive nature of artists’ training,” and explained, “The costs in performing artist training are extremely high, because the training we provide is very intensive: it’s tailor-made, it’s based on one-to-one teaching. You can’t teach the cello to people like Jacqueline du Pré in groups of 300 or even 20.”

While some will argue that this is an unaffordable luxury for Britain today, Ife also pointed out that, by raising fees to a higher level than in any public university system in the world, British schools of music may lose out to those in other countries, and — my inference — may well be obliged to close. Explaining that they “face competition from European and US conservatoires that charge lower fees – or, like the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, offer full scholarships,” he said, “We work in an international market in arts training. There are a lot of providers in the US who are tuition-free. The vast majority of European conservatories offer tuition rates that are lower than current rates.”

This, then, is the current state of play. Short-sighted, reckless, socially and culturally barren and fixated on a mean and narrow ideology, the coalition government is proposing to introduce swingeing cuts to funding and a liberalization of fees, which will make Britain’s universitiies amongst the most expensive in the world, and appears not to care that this dangerous experiment may lead to the closure of numerous long-established universities and university departments, the flight of British students abroad, a further drop in social mobility, as other young people decide that university is unaffordable, a notable impoverishment in the cultural and social life of Britain, and, most stupidly of all, severely restricting the opportunities for employment, self-employment and job creation that arts, humanities and the social sciences provide.

Note: This Wednesday, November 24, there is a national day of occupations and protests against the cuts (see here for further details), including a “Carnival of Resistance” at ULU, in central London, followed by a procession to Trafalgar Square. For further information about the govermment’s cuts in general, see the Coalition of Resistance website (and the conference in London on Saturday November 27), and a statement of intent by Tony Benn and 73 others that was published in the Guardian in August.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

30 Responses

  1. Dr David V Barrett says...

    There’s a petition about this — “campaigning for recognition of the humanities and social sciences as an invaluable public good that should not be abandoned to market forces” — at http://humanitiesmatter.wordpress.com/. It currently has 4,613 signatures, but needs a whole lot more.

    I hope you, and everyone who reads blog, will (a) sign it if you haven’t already, and (b) pass the word.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David. Please sign the petition, folks!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Nicholas Glais wrote:

    I have posted your article on my site democracy and class struggle http://democracyandclasstruggle.blogspot.com/2010/11/time-for-outrage-previous-postdid-you.html

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Karen Martin wrote:

    cuts in the arts reminds me of a movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus”. In one scene he tells the principal that after cuts in art/music/drama, etc. there will be nothing left for the students to write about.

    More on Austerity measures:
    In the state of Arizona such draconian cuts to that state’s Medicaid program has been initiated per the very conservative state legislature and governor that about 95 poor people are now on a DEATH LIST.
    Seriously a Death-panel like gig is active right now. United Healthcare was hired by the state to find a way to trim the costs of the Medicaid program. Who costs the most? Why those who get transplants of any kind. So, deny those who need a transplant and presto….you save money. This was covered well on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown last week. One poor Mexican-American was prepped for a liver transplant, the liver was there for him………..but the plug was pulled on the surgery, unless the guy could come up with $200,000. He couldn’t and the liver was given to someone else on the organ waiting list.
    So seems Arizona has not only a death panel but a death list of 95 poor folks.

  5. Did You Miss This? 100 Percent Funding Cuts to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Courses at UK Universities « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 22 November, 2010 Image by Selena Sheridan via […]

  6. PJL says...

    Not directly related. But George Monbiot has suggested that the UK’s PFI debt should be classified as odious debt, as a way of clawing back some of the extensive hand-outs to big business in the last ~15 years. His article is here:


    If nothing else, a little of the money could go to saving LSE and SOAS. The idea of losing either of these two institutions is very worrying. (Not that losing the others isn’t – but I know a little bit about these two.)

    A team of researchers at the LSE were pretty much instrumental, as I understand it, in exposing New Labour’s bogus claims – and costings – on ID cards. This work came at some person cost: Simon Davies was subject to a personal smear campaign and an attempt (partially successful) to drum him out of his job. He lost his home as a consequence.[1]

    The SOAS seems to be one of those genuine conduits of understanding between the UK and (in particular) the Arab world.[2] It is a centre of real excellence and expertise in languages, culture and regional politics and a lot more besides. Its loss would be a real one: the cultural equivalent of burning a wing of the library of Alexandria. One example: M.A.S Abdel Haleem, author of ‘The Qur’an:A New Translation”[3] is a professor at SOAS. His translation of the Qur’an, with detailed introduction and extensive footnotes, helped me to clear up a lot of misinformation that circulates about what the Qur’an actually says. (If his interpretation is anything near right, then a lot of what circulates on the internet about the Qu’ran is *way* off the mark).

    [1] “Taking Liberties”, Chris Atkins (starting p99)
    [2] http://www.soas.ac.uk/about/
    [3] ISBN: 978-0192805485

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paul. Good to hear from you, and thanks for the insights.

  8. Tweets that mention Did You Miss This? 100 Percent Funding Cuts to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Courses at UK Universities | Andy Worthington -- Topsy.com says...

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    […] was worth £40,000 – a not unrealistic figure for the future given tuition fees rises and the decimation of funding for arts courses in higher education. The latter is a subject in itself, and one to which we should return to at a […]

  12. Theatre’s future depends on the young | Lyn Gardner – Marcus Evans Offices says...

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  13. Theatre’s future depends on the young | Lyn Gardner – EdConnect says...

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  16. Heather says...

    Shame, is T Emin not in bed with the Tories now? OOps for the pun!
    The con-dems will be quite happy to see the jobs and opportunities in the arts go to the better orfs, those who can afford the time and money to study, thats if the courses exist in the first place after their slash n burn cuts. They would rather not have the humanities at all. Music? Hmmm not for the plebbs, etc etc.
    Good article, things seem a little quiet at the mo regards the cuts and protests…is it the better weather?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Heather. Great comments.
    I think things are quiet because no one outside of UK Uncut (who are doing great work) has realized — or worked out — how to create a mass movement of opposition that gets out on the streets as frequently as possible. May Day’s coming — that’s got to be a good opportunity to get out there, and to get out there en masse!

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  22. Kathy Leibacher says...

    I don’t live in the UK, but I do live in the US, in Florida. Our governor is cutting state funding for humanities, specifically targeting Anthropology. I am a Religion major, who intended on making Anthropology my minor. How absolutely ridiculous to consider that humanities has no place, in the US, in the state of Florida, where immigrants come in massive numbers. Here, in the United States, we are guaranteed freedom of speech in our constitutional Bill of Rights. To cut funding to any part of humanities, let alone ALL, is denying freedom of expression. It is the beginning of Communism and ushers in dictatorship.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kathy. Or possibly the beginning of fascism. What appals me is decision-makers’ disregard for the importance of an educated population. How far we have fallen …

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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