Funding cut for HE arts courses goes ahead

23 July 2021

In March this year the Office for Students (OfS) was asked by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, to consult on a reallocation of the government’s Strategic Priority Grant.

You can read our original blog (May 2021) here for our detailed comments and concerns.

Some of this grant was being used to directly address the comparatively high costs of teaching some subjects in Higher Education; including medicine, agriculture and creative art and design courses. The government was proposing to halve the cost of this subsidy for the creative disciplines and re-prioritise the funding ‘towards high-cost provision that supports key industries and the delivery of vital public services, reflecting priorities that have emerged in the light of the coronavirus pandemic’. These subjects included STEM (Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering) subjects, IT and public health.

In reality, these proposals worked out at a reduction in grant of £17 million to creative courses: a cut of £122 per full-time student per year. This is equivalent to around 1% of the combined fee and OfS funding that a university receives for a creative course. The proposals also included:

  • the scrapping of London weighting, and
  • an additional investment of £10 million into Specialist Institutions which would include ‘additional grants for a number of world-leading institutions delivering courses in the performing and creative arts.

Consultation results

On 20 July the Office for Students published the results of the consultation, which received more than 8,000 responses. They also published a letter from Williamson which set out his decision on the final terms and conditions to be applied to the Grant funding.

The Secretary of State decided to go forward with all the proposals, with the only change being that archaeology is to be reclassified and will continue to receive the grant. This appears to be due to the need for archaeologists to progress the government’s large scale construction ambitions such as HS2 and Crossrail.

Williamson wrote in his 19 July letter that he had ‘considered the consultation responses’ and went on to write:

‘I consider that the changes I proposed in my 19th January guidance are justified to support Government priorities.’

This in itself represents a shift in the way that Higher Education Funding is allocated – not by sole analysis of subject teaching costs (TRAC data), but by alignment to the ideology of the government of the day. However, it does appear to be in line with the Framework Agreement that the DfE holds with the Office for Students, which makes it clear that the Secretary of State can direct where the grant money goes ‘according to the government’s strategic policy priorities for HE’.

The consultation analysis document makes it clear that,‘we [the OfS] ultimately had to fully comply with the terms and conditions of funding imposed by the Secretary of State in arriving at the decisions set out in this document’.

So, whilst all the consultation responses were read and analysed by OfS staff, the decision regarding how to allocate the funding was not made by the Office for Students. We are therefore unclear about the status of the consultation in the first instance, and would like more clarity as to how the information submitted was assessed by the Secretary of State.


At the CLA we are obviously very disappointed with the decision by Williamson to go ahead with cuts to HE arts funding. The unintended consequence of this is a further decline in the perceived value of arts subjects in higher education, which in turn devalues the status of arts subjects in schools.

Although the sums involved are comparatively small in relation to HE budgets, they will have the disproportionate impact on the provision of arts courses that we highlighted in our blog in May, when we said that ‘We have huge concerns about the impact of these cuts on existing inequalities, the cultural and creative sector talent pipeline, on the ability of our creative industries to remain world-leading in future years, and the message they send about the value of arts subjects.’

There will also be deep ramifications for those creative HE providers in London who will lose their London Weighting, a decision that this statement by London Higher describes as ‘reckless levelling down’.

We agree with Professor Geoffrey Crossick from the University of London, who tweeted:

Fact that govt has added £10m more for specialist institution funding (mostly arts) says to me they want world-class elite conservatoires etc while reducing other creative courses which are disproportionately in post-92 univs. Both are essential but there is an agenda here.’

And, as ever, we are concerned that this represents a direction of travel and that there may be cuts to top-up funding and fees to come, which would be devastating.

Read more about this in the Financial Times (paywall) and the Guardian.