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Seven UK universities have announced job cuts affecting arts courses in recent weeks with performing arts courses particularly at risk.

University of Kent
University of Kent
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University of Kent's proposal to “phase out” its music course following a consultation in response to "financial challenges" has been described by support organisation MusicHE as “part of a wider assault on university education as we know it”. 

MusicHE said the university's plans to cut 58 jobs and stop recruiting students for several humanities subjects—including Music and Audio Technology, Art History, Journalism and Comparative Literature—represented “a total failure to value students as anything other than an income stream”.

Kent is just one of a number of financially stricken universities to announce job cuts impacting arts subjects in recent weeks—including Queen Mary University of London, Goldsmiths University of London, Middlesex University, Surrey University and Winchester—citing falling student levels and rising costs coupled with frozen tuition fees since 2017/18.

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The squeeze on arts and humanities comes against a backdrop of wider turmoil in the sector, with at least 15 UK universities announcing job cuts and cost-saving measures this academic year and over 35 institutions currently running active redundancy programmes, according to Local University & College Union.

The proposed staff cuts at University of Kent are due to be finalised by mid-April, with students to be informed of module and supervision options by the end of the month.

Alvise Sforza Tarabochia, Head of Culture and Languages at the university, launched a petition to try to stop the cuts. He said that the “hastily crafted" proposals risked turning South East England into “a cold spot in terms of availability of core humanities”. 

In a statement, MusicHE also highlighted the impact locally, saying: "This is another blow for Music in higher education, and a blow in particular for the provision of degree-level music in the Kent region.”

A University of Kent spokesperson said the changes would "sit alongside broader strategic plans at Kent to ensure we put students at the heart of everything we do" and were a response to “a number of financial challenges, including the fixed tuition fee, rising costs and changes in student behaviour”. 

“None of this is a reflection on the quality or societal value of any course or subject area being consulted on,” the spokesperson added.  

Bearing the brunt of 'chronic' underfunding

In February, Goldsmiths University of London, which specialises in the arts, humanities and social sciences, announced that up to 130 posts were at risk of redundancy. The cuts would impact 11 of the college’s 19 departments, including Music, Theatre and Performance, English and Creative Writing, and Visual Cultures.

The University College Union branch at Goldsmiths said the plans were “unprecedented" in their scale, intensity and speed. 

Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths, defended the cuts saying: "Like other universities, we are having to make difficult decisions because of a funding model that is widely acknowledged to be unfit for purpose.

“Creative institutions have also borne the brunt of chronic underfunding of arts in schools and within this environment fewer students are choosing these subjects at university.

“We are fully committed to retaining the arts, humanities and social sciences as core elements of our educational offer.”

Performing arts

Performing arts provision, in particular, is facing the axe at several universities.

Earlier this month, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) opened a voluntary severance scheme in its Faculty of Humanities and Social Science. Though it has not set a target for the number of staff it needs to take part, applications are particularly encouraged from the Drama, Film and English schools.

The University and College Union (UCU) at QMUL said the cuts follow “a sector-wide attack on the arts and humanities” claiming “rhetoric from government frames these degrees as 'low value' and of minimal benefit to the economy”. A university spokesperson said the changes would "align with the demands of future students and deliver leading research to address the ever-changing challenges facing society".

University of Surrey also rolled out a redundancy plan in early March as it contends with a reported £10m deficit.

A student-led petition opposing the cuts said that despite being initially voluntary, certain subjects are being more strongly targeted, with schools including Acting and Literature told that all levels of staff should consider coming forward as opposed to only senior staff in areas such as Languages, Hospitality, and Science.

In a statement, the university’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Max Lu, said the institution was “not immune to the unprecedented financial pressures” facing the sector and that he was taking a “focused and nuanced approach” to the challenges, designed to “minimise the impact on our people and our core mission”.

At the University of Winchester, 40 job cuts are currently planned as it deals with a claimed £6m deficit, which will impact its School of Acting.

A university spokesperson said it was “considering all cost-saving options” given the sector's financial challenges and that "every effort has been made to secure savings through all other means possible."

'A downward trend in interest'

Last week, University of Middlesex also revealed an intention to make its entire Theatre department redundant, with a loss of 13 academic posts and more jobs at risk in Music and Dance.

In a statement, a university spokesperson said: "We have seen a downward trend in interest for our postgraduate theatre course. Only three students enrolled in September 2023, and the fall in European students has also greatly reduced numbers on our undergraduate course.

"Therefore, we have made the difficult decision not to recruit further postgraduate students next year. Unfortunately, this means to remain within budget and adapt to student demand, 13 posts are at risk of redundancy."

“We are incredibly proud of the rich history of our theatre programme; it’s in Middlesex University’s DNA, and we are committed to continuing provision in the creative industries more widely.

"We hope the changes we are making today will ensure the financial sustainability of our courses in the arts for the future."

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Comments

And whilst the government pour money into a film studio in Sunderland, which will bring many opportunities, the University announce that they will close their Glass and Ceramics courses which will limit many opportunities.