Arts education faces massive cuts – yet its value is felt everywhere

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When an emergency arts aid program was launched in the face of COVID-19 last July, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cheated their value to industry and to the nation as a whole. “They make our country great,” he said. “They are the backbone of our world-renowned and rapidly growing creative industries.”

Therefore the recent government proposal cutting funding for higher education in the arts by 50%, covering music, dance, theater and performing arts, art and design, media studies and archeology, seems somewhat contradictory .

The immediate damage to the sector caused by such huge cuts in terms of the provision and access to arts education – especially for low-income people who depend on public funding – is evident. But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s assertion that arts classes are not among the “Strategic priorities” belies the value of the arts to the UK, economically and culturally.

This is demonstrated by a series of research, including the work I have done on the live music value as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural value project.

The UK’s vibrant cultural production is a tool of soft power and an academic asset.
Siddhant Kumar on Unsplash, FAL

The British creative industries are an important economic engine, a source of cultural value and diplomatic sweet power. They Support individual well-being and social cohesion, as has been clearly emphasized during the pandemic.

The government’s economic estimates for 2019 showed that before the pandemic, the creative industries employed 2.1 million people. This represents an increase of 34.5% from 2011, more than three times the overall rate of employment growth in the UK as a whole. In 2018, the sector contributed more than £ 111 billion to the economy.

The music industry alone, according to figures from trade body UK Music, contributed £ 5.8bn to the economy in 2019, generating £ 2.8bn in export revenue and preserving 197,168 full-time equivalent jobs.

High value

Underlying this economic and social value is a vast pipeline of arts education. Government commissioned in 2019 Augar review of education implied that many arts courses were of low value. But making such generalizations ignores the scale at which arts graduates make a significant contribution to the sector and to society at large.

Creative-Focused Universities and Colleges Report Shows Their Graduates Add 8.4 billion pounds of income to the UK economy each year. And the search for UK universities found that higher education was “the main producer of the talents and skills that fuel the creative industries and a major source of research that informs new ideas, practices and business models”.

These contributions are also linked to artistic practice, education and business at the local level. For example, the UK live music census report published in 2018 (which I co-wrote) illustrated the extent of the relationship between higher education and the places and businesses that support aspiring and established musicians – an important aspect of talent pipeline.

Almost 60% of institutions that responded to the census noted formal or informal links with educational communities, universities and colleges. Local economies, as well as the national economy as a whole, benefit from these linkages.

Moreover, just as disentangling the economic and cultural contribution of arts education is not straightforward, it is a mistake to ignore the deeper relationships at work in higher education. In terms of teaching and research, artistic and scientific subjects do not work, as the journal Augar wrongly suggests, independently and at the expense of each other.

A wall of framed images and biological specimens
Collaboration with artists is invaluable in communicating scientific research to a wider audience.
Mark Hang Fung So on Unsplash, FAL

On the contrary, both students and researchers benefit from the cross pollination ideas and experience. Even beyond cross-subsidization through teaching and research, and in the arts and sciences there is some mutual benefit.

If the government recognizes that the arts are beneficial, it should also recognize that touching arts subjects in higher education will degrade this ability to contribute to the economy at large. Besides being invaluable in communicate the results and by facilitating public understanding of scientific research, interdisciplinary collaborations between the humanities and the sciences have led to new initiatives in fields as diverse as climate change and biology.

The United Kingdom research culture, as well as its cultural production, is stronger and better equipped to meet the digital challenges and the opportunities of the future as a result.

This strength did not manifest quickly but was the result of longer-term relationships. It will not be easy to recover quickly. The arts have already been beaten by the pandemic. An enabling environment is needed that examines their value strategically, comprehensively and over the long term. The government’s own priorities level across the country – with equipping the economy as a whole for a competitive and connected international arena – depend on it.

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