From the dazzling lights of the West End to the contemporary art scene in the east, London is known worldwide for its rich array of art and culture. Prior to the pandemic, the London arts sector generated £ 58 billion for the UK economy. It created one in six jobs in the capital and attracted 80% of London’s tourists.
At the center of this cultural success story is a highly talented workforce – many of them learned their trade and started their careers at one of the city’s leading universities. From actors, musicians and top performers to the technicians, designers and animators who do it all behind the scenes, London’s universities and colleges offer the world’s leading hands-on training our creative industries need.
Starting this academic year, however, London universities will have to put up with a sudden cut in government funding. While all London universities are struggling to get rid of the “London Weighting” allocation, which has traditionally partially covered higher operating costs in the capital, those offering creative arts offerings also have to deal with a 49% reduction government funding of courses in performing and creative arts.
This means that London universities will lose £ 64 million to the loss of London Weighting funding, plus a good portion of the £ 17 million cut from funding higher art education. While some London conservatoires will benefit from the £ 10 million increase given to England’s specialist providers as “exceptional funding”, it will not benefit mainstream London offerings and could result in course closings and academic restructuring if institutions try to balance the books.
Art subjects not a “strategic priority”
According to the education minister’s instructions, given the current upgrading agenda, the government can no longer justify additional funding for London or fund courses outside of the list of “strategic priorities”. This includes subjects that support the NHS and general health policy, costly STEM subjects, and those that cater to the specific needs of the labor market.
This budget cut is based on two rough assumptions: first, all the streets of London are paved with gold, and second, that the arts are no longer important to British society. Neither could be further from the truth.
Even before the Covid pandemic, London had the highest poverty rates in the country. According to the Trust for London, 28% of Londoners live in poverty compared to 22% elsewhere, and the cost of living in the capital is 15 to 58% higher than in the rest of the UK. In fact, several London boroughs are among the most deprived areas in the country, with a third of London boroughs among the 30% most deprived areas in England.
Turning back progress to reduce inequality
Many London higher education institutions operate in these challenging areas and provide important skills and training opportunities to some of the UK’s most disadvantaged and ethnically diverse communities.
Reducing the resources available to London universities to help their students succeed will only harm the UK’s poorest and risk turning back the clock on progress in opening up higher education to traditionally underrepresented groups of students.
Any further reduction in funding for the art disciplines will further increase inequalities. If, as a result of these cuts, fewer art courses are offered at some of London’s more ‘local’ universities, it will inevitably reduce student choice and make London’s ethnic minority and black students and disabled or caring students disproportionately less likely to both meet Apply to the most selective, specialized art providers or move elsewhere for higher education.
We need to expand our own creative talent base
According to the government’s own data, the creative industries contributed over £ 111 billion to the UK economy before the pandemic and grew five times as fast as the UK economy as a whole.
To resume that pre-Covid success the UK arts sector needs qualified graduates who can embark on a variety of creative careers and we should do our utmost to expand this talent pipeline for the future rather than just the most privileged in of society.
With Brexit making the UK’s creative talent pool even more difficult – with applications to UK universities from the European Union falling 56% for the 2021-22 academic year – it is more important than ever that we strive to develop our own creative talent to develop and promote base.
Insisting on cuts that harm economic and ethnic diversity in the arts is not a way of leveling our nation; it will only level the capital city, its citizens, and the country’s economic potential as a whole.
Dr. Diana Beech is the Chief Executive Officer at London Higher. She was policy advisor to the last three university ministers.
@LondonHigher | @dianajbeech