The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, has announced substantial cuts in funding for arts degrees. Jane Ide assesses the impact it might have on training for the sector.
Last month’s news that the Government is planning a 50% spending cut to arts subjects for England’s Higher Education came as a shock. The proposition that subjects in music, dance, drama and performing arts; art and design; media studies; and archaeology have been identified as, ‘not among its strategic priorities’ seems an unnecessary and harmful blow to a sector that has been badly-mauled by the pandemic.
It also appears contrary to the ambitions set out in the Government’s Build Back Better plan for growth, which cites the creative industries as being vital to the UK’s economic success. The sector will need an influx of talented young people to build itself, once again, into an industry that was the fastest-growing part of the UK economy, generating job opportunities faster than any other sector. At Creative & Cultural Skills, we fully support the efforts being made to change the course of this decision.
Misplaced default to academic qualifications
But if this is to be the new landscape for how the next generation of creative talent is developed, we should also ask: where does this leave us now? If academic training is reduced in Higher Education, does this leave space for the growth of higher technical training options?
A constant issue we hear from our partners in the creative sector is that the graduates they recruit do not come with the appropriate skills for the industry. It is one of the reasons why we continue to promote apprenticeships and other vocational study programmes: on-the-job learning is a sure-fire way of helping individuals develop the skills they need for the world of work.
Many organisations continue to ask for graduate qualifications when even when the positions they are recruiting do not need them. This default to academic qualifications excludes many people for whom university is not a desirable or realistic option and results in a sector that is narrower in its societal make-up and not as fair or equal as it should aspire to be.
Shift in perception of vocational qualifications
A shift in attitude towards technical training routes would be a welcome one, and it would reflect a change in the public perception of vocational qualifications. A recent study by the Social Market Foundation revealed that 48% of people would prefer their child to get a vocational qualification over university or work; people with vocational qualifications are believed to be more technically skilled, work-ready and adaptable than university graduates; with most believing that vocational education should be at least an equal political priority to academic education.
And if apprenticeships are to be the future of our sector, then we should also address the difficulties that many organisations face in embracing them. In the Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers for 2020 (compiled by High Fliers Research and marked on overall commitment to employing apprentices, creation of new apprenticeships, diversity of their new apprentices, and progression of their apprentices onto further apprenticeships and employment) no organisation from the creative or cultural sector was in the top 100.
Many of the organisations we work with have achieved great things with their apprenticeship programmes and started thousands of young people on their career journey into the creative sector. And yet other businesses find the obstacles in recruitment, both perceived and real, to be insurmountable.
Rebalancing academic and vocational options
None of this should detract from the importance of academic study routes for the creative arts. The UK is home to some of the best art schools in the world and the talent they nurture is vital to our cultural sector maintaining its world leading status. Nor should we overlook that the cuts to arts courses are going to disproportionally shut out the least advantaged students in accessing them in the first place.
But it may also force a much-needed rebalancing of academic and vocational options, in turn encouraging us to assess valid pre-requisites for entry to work. We hope the debates and actions provoked by Minister Williamson’s proposals will in turn help the creative industries rebuild into a fairer and more inclusive sector and do so through the availability of training routes that are best placed to aid this.
How we can make apprenticeships work for our sector as effectively as they do for others is one of the subjects of our Build Back Fairer podcast series where we explore the impacts and opportunities that may have been heightened by, or arisen during, the pandemic.
This article, sponsored and contributed by Creative & Cultural Skills, is part of a series promoting apprenticeships and challenging entrenched social inequalities, to create a more diverse workforce