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Outcry over ‘savage attack’ on music and arts at HE level

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has labelled a recent government proposal ‘devastating’ and ‘counter-productive’, believing that it will create an ‘unnecessary and divisive hierarchy’ of subjects, while the Musicians’ Union (MU) expressed ‘horror’ at the plans.

In late March, Office for Students (OfS) launched a public consultation on recurrent funding for higher education (HE) providers, which includes the proposal that ‘high cost’ subjects not part of Gavin Williamson’s ‘strategic priorities’ will suffer a 50 per cent funding cut for the academic year 2021-22. These subjects cover music, performing arts, media and archaeology.

As the consultation became public knowledge in late April, momentum built online as music and arts organisations, such as the MU and the ISM, encouraged others to urgently respond to the consultation before it closed on 6 May. Pointing out that music contributed £5.8bn to the UK economy in 2019, both organisations expressed concern that the UK could lose its ‘world-leading status’ in music as a result of this cut.

The ISM, a subject association for music, said in a statement: ‘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.’

If the proposals go ahead, the budget for these ‘lower priority’ subjects at college and university level would be reduced from £36m to £19m. The consultation document acknowledges that these creative subjects bring ‘huge benefit’ to society, culture and individuals, as well as make an ‘important contribution’ to access and participation. The document concludes that ‘when funding is significantly constrained’, it is ‘right’ that the funding for these subjects is reduced ‘in order to prioritise other subjects’.

Responding to the proposal, the MU said the cuts will be ‘catastrophic for music provision at HE level’ and will affect its members’ work and the financial viability for training for the next generation. The ISM has raised ‘moral and practical objections’, highlighting research mentioned in the consultation showing that the subjects under threat have ‘impressive’ diversity and inclusion data, particularly for students with a reported disability.

Drake Music also urged others to respond, as the proposed cuts will have a disproportionate impact on disabled people and will be ‘catastrophic for inclusion and diversity in generations to come’. The ISM added: ‘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.’

On 6 May, the day the consultation closed, the Department for Education (DfE) published a blog post entitled ‘Four things you may not know about music and arts education’, accompanied by a Tweet asking:




/ADOBESTOCK ‘Did you know that music is the second highest funded subject in schools following PE?’ The DfE also replied to several articles, comments and petitions on social media with the comment: ‘University funding comes from tuition fees and other sources. The proposed reforms to the Strategic Priorities Grant, a small % of a university’s income, only affect additional money for some subjects. They mean more money for scientific/medical subjects and those supporting the NHS.’

While universities’ main funding comes from tuition fees, the funding under consultation is used to support higher than usual teaching costs, as well as to support the ‘policy areas and government priorities’. Other major changes for the upcoming academic year include increased funding for the ‘main’ high-cost subjects, increased funding for mental health provision, and the withdrawal of the allocation that supports the additional costs of higher education in London. HE providers can expect to be notified of their initial allocations of recurrent grants in June or July 2021.

The consultation documents can be found at: A petition can be found at: See p.15 for an opinion piece on the cuts discussed in this story.


by Harry Venning


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