Government criticised for ‘regressive’ plans to ‘limit student numbers on lower-earning arts degrees’

25 October 2021, 12:35 | Updated: 25 October 2021, 13:07

Government called ‘regressive’ for ‘plans to limit student numbers on lower-earning arts degrees’
Government called ‘regressive’ for ‘plans to limit student numbers on lower-earning arts degrees’. Picture: Alamy

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Critics see the alleged plans as a new attack on arts subjects in higher education, after the universities regulator confirmed in July that funding for music would be slashed by 50 percent.

Musicians and academics are calling out reported government plans to limit the number of university students taking creative arts subjects, and other degrees with lower salary returns, as part of its spending review negotiations.

According to The Guardian, the Treasury is particularly keen to clamp down on the number of young people in England studying subjects that produce a ‘negative return’ and are therefore less likely to repay their student loans in full.

Last year, outstanding student loans reached £140bn. As part of its autumn budget shift, the government is also considering plans to change the repayment system, so that graduates will begin to repay their loan once their salary hits £23,000, replacing the current threshold of £27,295.

The Guardian adds the government could bump up A level grade requirements to limit numbers on some courses.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians describes the plans as a new “disregard shown by DfE toward creative subjects”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said it does “not comment on speculation in the run-up to fiscal events”, and said there are “no plans to limit the growth of the higher education sector”.

Read more: Government plans to halve funding for music in higher education ‘catastrophic’

University academics have condemned the reported plans, which follow the news – reported in July by The Guardian – that funding for creative arts subjects at universities is being halved, with the money put towards Stem and medicine courses.

Arts professor Martyn Evans tweeted: “I am sick of the continual attack on the creative arts. The creative industries generate huge value to the UK but the government don’t, or don’t want to understand this…”

Dean of Culture and Creative Arts at Newcastle University, Vee Pollock, called the plans “short-sighted” and “unfortunately, not surprising”.

“The government seems insistent on decimating creative education and access to arts subjects at all levels, with inevitable repercussions for our creative economy,” Pollock tweeted.

Cultural Industries lecturer Dr Rohit K Dasgupta called it a “terrible regressive policy”.

Journalist Jonathan Lis added: “Arts subjects are not optional nice-to-haves: culture is part of what makes us human. But the idea is criminally stupid even on its own terms: our creative industries bring the economy billions of pounds. They’re the only global asset Britain has left.”

Academics have warned these changes would have the greatest impact on students from underprivileged backgrounds.

Prof Graham Galbraith, the vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, told The Guardian: “There is a strong socioeconomic determinant to young people’s school achievements.

“If the government is to implement a minimum qualification rule, it must ensure that it is based on individuals’ capabilities and not a proxy for the school they happened to go to or the social class to which they belong.”

Universities regulator confirmed funding for creative arts subjects at universities is being halved
Universities regulator confirmed funding for creative arts subjects at universities is being halved. Picture: Alamy

A spokesperson for the Department for Education has said: “There are no plans to limit the growth of the higher education sector, which plays a vital role in giving students the skills and knowledge they need for their future careers.

“The government is committed to driving up standards across post-16 educations ensuring everyone can gain the right skills to secure, well-paid jobs that are critical to supporting the economy.”