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An 'assault on the arts' by the government is having a devastating impact on creative courses around England, education union warns.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan speaking at the Conservative party conference
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan wants more funding to go to 'strategically important' courses

An education union has called on university Vice-Chancellors to oppose "government attempts to devalue the arts" after Education Secretary outlined plans to cut funding for performing and creative arts courses.

Guidance issued by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to the Office for Students, the public body that distributes government money to higher education providers, asks the organisation to freeze grants intended to meet the extra costs of offering music, drama, fashion and other arts courses for undergraduates

It also asks it to cut grants for postgraduate teaching in the subjects.


"It remains my priority that students pursue HE studies that enable them to progress into employment, thereby benefitting them as well as the wider economy," Keegan states in the guidance.

Funding for "strategically important high-cost subjects" that support the NHS, science, engineering and technology subjects will increase by £18m.

But funding for creative and performing arts courses will be frozen at £16.7m in 2024/25, representing a real-terms cut due to inflation. 

Top-up funding from the government for the courses in 2020/21 was worth £36m before it was close to halved by then-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

The guidance was issued after a number of financially stricken universities announced job cuts impacting arts subjects in recent weeks, citing falling student levels and rising costs coupled with frozen tuition fees since 2017/18.

'Devaluing the arts'

In response, the University and College Union said the decision would have a significant impact on less affluent students.

Jo Grady, the union's General Secretary, said: "The government's assault on the arts is already having a devastating impact on creative courses and risks turning higher education into an arid desert of courses designed solely to meet employability metrics. 

"Arts subjects are increasingly becoming the preserve of the rich, and this latest attack will further shut down opportunities for working-class students. 

"Vice-chancellors need to stop closing courses and fight attempts to devalue the arts."

She also called on Labour, should it win the next general election, to reinstate full levels of high-cost subject support for arts subjects alongside proper investment in careers advice for students to ensure everyone has access to the life-changing potential of university.

Speaking last month Labour Leader Keir Starmer criticised a "lack of focus on the arts" by the current Conservative government and said his party was determined to improve creative education opportunities.