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After UK government slashes arts education funding it is now offering £10m extra cash—for a lucky few institutions

A select group of 16 specialist colleges, including the Royal College of Art and the Courtauld Institute of Art, have been given a lifeline

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visiting Kirklees College in Dewsbury Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

UK government subsidies for arts and design courses were cut by half earlier this year, prompting a wave of criticism. But a select group of 16 specialist colleges or “world-leading institutions” have been given a lifeline in the form of £10m extra funding. Institutions due to receive this additional subsidy include the Royal College of Art and the Courtauld Institute of Art, as well as the University of the Arts, London.

Paula Orrell, the director of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network, fears that the decision means that art schools across the country will miss out. “The list includes only two specialist art schools that have fine art courses. England leads in art and design teaching practice; it is one of our global assets. The list does not represent the diversity of excellent pedagogical art courses in London and the regions such as Falmouth University or Plymouth College of Art.”

In July, the UK government confirmed it was moving ahead with plans to cut funding for art and design courses by 50% across higher education institutions in England. The Office for Students (OfS), the independent regulator of higher education, said that the subsidy for each full-time student on an arts course will be cut from £243 to £121.50 next academic year (2021-22). The move will save around £20m, according to education secretary Gavin Williamson.

The cuts continue to provoke anger among university and college arts faculties. A spokesperson for Goldsmiths, University of London, says that the college estimates that these changes will see the institution lose over £2m in funding every year, particularly impacting the teaching of creative courses.

The OfS confirmed in July, however, that funding for specialist institutions will increase by £10m to £53m, including additional grants for a number of “world-leading institutions delivering courses in the performing and creative arts”.

An OfS spokesman says that the current criteria for eligibility to receive this funding were determined by the outcome of a review undertaken by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in 2015-16. As part of the survey, institutions provided evidence of their “world-leading teaching outputs” and higher costs.

“Providers” meeting these criteria have received £5m of the extra £10m funding for 2021-22 but the scope for expanding the list appears limited. “We are committed to reviewing the funding for world-leading specialist providers for 2022-23, but our review will also inform the distribution of the remaining additional £5m for 2021-22,” the OfS spokesman adds.

In March, Gavin Williamson told the OfS in a letter: “I would like to be explicit that while I fully support the review, as there may be a small number of specialist institutions who were not placed on the list at the time but who now would be considered world-leading, there should be no watering-down of the ‘world-leading’ criterion, and, accordingly, I would not expect to see a large-scale expansion of the list of eligible providers.”

“The decision to halve the high-cost funding subsidy for creative and arts subjects from the start of the next academic year suggests a lack of joined-up thinking from the government.” Stephen Felmingham, academic dean at Plymouth College of Art

The Plymouth College of Art is among the specialist institutions that will not receive any extra funding. Stephen Felmingham, the college’s academic dean, tells The Art Newspaper: “The decision to halve the high-cost funding subsidy for creative and arts subjects from the start of the next academic year suggests a lack of joined-up thinking from the government.”

He also warns of the possibility of other cutbacks. “Any future move to reduce tuition fees to non-STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] courses could significantly impact the UK cultural sector, social mobility and opportunities for equitable access to high-quality creative Higher Education,” Felmingham says. Tuition fees currently stand at £9,250 across all courses.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper, 337 September 2021