further proof of a government that doesn’t ‘value’ the arts

If we are to believe the front page of the Sunday Times this week we are about to see another assault on our values as a country in which a government hell bent on promoting a narrow curriculum demonstrates, once again, that it has a willful disregard for the people who nurture and care for the quality of life of the country and for our long term economic future. A government that seems incapable of making judgements based on anything other than vote capture and simplistic notions of value for money.

In summary the article suggests a reduction in University fees to £7,500 from £9,250, cutting the 6.1% interest rate on student loans and raising the threshold at which repayment start to £25000. Which all sounds very good. (One can only guess at the spur for this change of heart – could it be a response to Labours proposals in the last election?)

However there is a catch.

The government is only proposing to protect the funding of science and technology degree courses – on the spurious grounds that they cost more money to deliver and provide higher graduate pay. But there is no such protection for arts subjects – which can be equally expensive to deliver – because they don’t represent ‘value for money’.

This is pernicious, fiscally irresponsible and downright daft policy from a government incapable of differentiating between value and money.

They claim it’s based, in part, on the dubious argument that some universities have large surpluses. You can be sure that this isn’t the case of all universities and particularly specialist arts schools and drama colleges where most of the high quality creative arts education is taught. Where is the evidence that arts courses are cheap to run? Take a look at the cost of the craft disciplines, or rehearsal and production costs for dance and drama students or the technology to support film and animation courses. I dont buy it.

Based on this approach, what reaction might this have in the range of disciplines that Universities teach in the future. Will the creative arts be valued as equal and essential partners of science and technology, supporting the nation’s industrial strategy?  Not very probable. Vice-Chancellors are unlikely to seek to retain the relatively high cost base and lower fee levels of creative arts courses if this policy goes through. Nevermind one in ten new jobs are in the Creative Industries or that the sector is outperforming every other in terms of growth.

More baffling is the argument that tuition fees ought to be equated to graduate earnings. There are many professions that are highly valued but that may not attract high earnings. The creative industries stimulate the economy in extraordinary ways, support the creation and regeneration of places and enrich and improve the quality of lives. They are generative and produce employment (currently 1.8 million people work in the creative industries). Why are graduate earnings the tool of policy makers? Surely there is a wider and more important context? Surely we should value what the creative arts bring to UK economy, society and culture and recognise what it takes to educate and support the emerging artist, designer, maker (the majority of which are degree educated). It is a nonsense to equate fees to graduates earnings.

I worry that scant regard is being given to the teaching of a set of disciplines that encourage questioning, independent thinking, vision and imagining how the world might better.



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