Mass student movement needed to fight against cuts to arts funding

Bea Gardner, Southampton Socialist Students

University of the Arts London (UAL) Socialist Students

University students and staff across the country have been left outraged at the Office for Students’ proposed cuts to university teaching grants as part of the government’s “reprioritisation” strategy for universities.

The proposals include the slashing of funding by 50% for high-cost arts and humanities subjects, including music, performing arts, media studies and archaeology, in favour of so called “strategically important subjects” including those in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM subjects). Under the proposals, courses currently identified as having high costs, but which don’t make the government’s short list of high priority subjects, will lose 50% of their teaching grant next year.

The government has indicated that this would likely be reduced further in future years. The cut amounts to £125.00 per student and adds up to over £20mn overall. In addition, the government is proposing to end the London weighting which will amount to a £64mn cut in grants received by London universities to account for the higher costs of the capital.

It is clear the cuts will result in further eroding of learning conditions and could spell out the closure of some courses altogether. Even if courses don’t close altogether, the cuts mean further redundancies and cuts to resources. We’ve already seen a huge reduction in all of our learning conditions as universities attempt to spend less and less on staff and resources, this cut will further increase the competition for university resources to the detriment of all. Universities will likely turn to further casualisation, employing staff on worse terms and conditions with less protections to save costs, all of which has a detrimental impact on student learning.

The government has tried to provide cover for their decision by highlighting that it is only a “small proportion of the income of higher education institutions” and that the reforms only affect the “additional funding allocated toward some subjects”.

While it’s true that the teaching grant now only makes up a small proportion of income, and only for some courses, this has not always been the case; there has been a 76% cut overall to teaching grant budget since 2010.

The trebling of fees in 2012 fundamentally shifted the balance of funding in universities, placing the majority of cost on to students. Previously government teaching grants was the main source of teaching income, with tuition fees partially contributing to the total cost of a course. After 2012, the government retained a small teaching grant directed toward high-cost courses that would otherwise not be funded by tuition fees alone and it is this, already significant reduced grant, that the government seeks to narrow further.

The total amount of funding allocated to the teaching grants is not being cut – instead  the Tories are proposing to divert £20mn of funding from and humanity subjects and £64mn from London universities to ‘strategically important’ subjects.

The strategic priority courses are those subjects the government deems as having “high value” including NHS courses and STEM subjects which the government suggests are subjects that supports the skills needed to “build back better”.

Socialist Students says that it should be students and staff who decide what funding is necessary for our education and futures – not the Tories or university management who have driven our universities into the ground over the years with cuts, tuition fees and student debt. We stand for the building of united student and staff struggle to win the funding our universities need to provide a high quality and free education for all students no matter what they choose to study.

Despite the Tories’ desperate attempt to frame this move as in the interests of young people’s futures, this attack will not mean more jobs and opportunities for young people – far from it. In fact, it will mean even further restrictions facing working class young people from entering study in the arts and humanities as course sizes are cut or face disappearing altogether.

Neither will it mean better employment prospects for young people. Under 25s have accounted for two thirds of all the job losses suffered over the course of the pandemic, a picture which will only get worse as the end of the furlough scheme in October approaches.

The Tories’ ‘solution’ to this crisis has been to use it to create cheap labour for the bosses – such as the Kickstarter scheme, which has meant the short term creation of 6 month long ‘jobs’ for young people on the pitifully low youth minimum wage.

Only by scrapping tuition fees and replacing it with the full government funding our universities need can the crisis in education be ended.

This would have to be accompanied with a mass programme of government investment into socially useful job creation, democratically decided on by workers and young people, in order to truly provide young people leaving any line of study with a decent future, starting with access to decent jobs.

Socialist Students says that the student movement cannot allow the rhetoric of ‘high-value’ courses to go unchallenged and let our universities to become  divided with competition between subjects over resources. Solidarity between staff losing their jobs, students losing their courses and communities weakened by the collapse of arts and humanities subjects is essential to build the forces that can fight back against the Tories’ capitalist vision of education.

That’s why Socialist Students fights for the building of a mass student movement to win free education – for the scrapping of tuition fees, student debt, and for the full reinstatement of teaching grants for all courses along with student bursaries. Join us if you agree.

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