NSEAD Response to the Office for Students Consultation on recurrent funding for 2021-22

Following the notification to the Office for Students (OfS) by the Secretary of State for Education setting out terms and conditions, the OfS have presented proposals about how the Office for Students (OfS) distributes recurrent funding for the academic year (August to July) 2021-22 for consultation. The OfS proposes a reduction by half to high-cost subject funding for other price group C1 subjects – that is, for courses in performing and creative arts, media studies and archaeology.

NSEAD recognises that these proposals are a response to the DFE’s failure to provide adequate recurrent funding for Higher Education for 2021-22. An increase of 11m does not cover the significant increase in student numbers, resulting in a reduction in the average funding per fte student. The directive from the DFE to increase funding for high-cost science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects without providing additional funding must not be resolved by cutting funding to other subjects. This is shortsighted and based on flawed measures of value, and market needs.

We understand that the Government is keen to support those subjects identified as supporting the NHS and wider healthcare policy; indeed the experience of the pandemic has underlined how critical is that we invest in this sector – years of underinvestment saw the system strained to breaking point. However, this should not be achieved by cutting off the pipeline to the creative industries. Reducing access to higher education in arts pathways will devastate the sector, already reeling from the impact of the pandemic.

We object in the strongest terms to the proposal to reduce by half the funding for high-cost subjects in group C1. This flies in the face of the stated aims of the Office for Students and their duty as the independent regulator for HE in England to protect the interests of all students, from all backgrounds:

‘We aim to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.’

A reduction in funding for courses in performing and creative arts, media studies and archaeology will lead to a reduction in places available, the withdrawing of specialist studio resources and without doubt, courses will close. In some cases, this will mean the irreversible loss of areas of practice and production.

The proposal to withdraw the allocation and weightings that support the additional costs of London compared to other regions will also hit provision for the visual arts, with a high concentration of Art schools in the capital.

The Creative Industries are one of the UK’s most vital parts of our economy. It accounted for just over one in eight of all UK businesses in 2016; and between 2011and 2018, employment in the creative sectors has grown by 30.6 per cent, compared to the UK average growth of 10.1per cent; and is now bigger than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas sectors combined. Not only that, but all employers say they value creative skills in their workplace and the current global pandemic has shone a light on the importance of creativity to both our economy and to the wellbeing of our nation at such a time of uncertainty.

This proposal will disproportionately affect students from lower income and disadvantaged backgrounds, who are already less likely to apply to study a creative arts course.Research undertaken by the Arts Qualification Research Project in 2020 revealed that UCAS data shows those most advantaged in society are more likely to hold Arts qualifications at Level 3 and are also more likely to apply to undertake a degree level arts course. 

It will further reduce opportunities for students from culturally and ethnically diverse backgrounds to study the arts and be part of an industry where people of colour are seriously underrepresented.

This matters.

Art, craft, and design education is a building block of social cohesion. It underpins our cultures, the economy and is vital for personal development, for health and wellbeing. 

The knock-on effect on level 3 courses, with reduced pathways to study in HE, will reduce provision and back along the pipeline, through KS4 and KS3, and primary education; the breadth of curriculum in our subject at all phases of education is under threat under these proposals.

The terms and conditions in the letter from the Secretary of State set out statutory guidance snd specify an uplift of 10m recurrent funding allocated to eligible specialist providers. This would be welcome if it were additional to the overall 1.330 being made available – but it is not. Diverting funding from the wider pool of HE providers is not acceptable, and further underlines the threat to access and opportunity.

The list of eligible specialist providers identified by HEFCE in 2015-16 lists a narrow group of elite institutions, with just 4 of those specialising in the visual arts. Just 5m remaining grant funding will be allocated to any institutions added to this list following the OFS review. 

Our creative industries, once a booming sector of the economy, will not thrive if they continue to draw on an increasingly narrow talent pool. The creative output of our artists, designers and craftspeople should reflect all people in our society – whatever their background. We call on the Office for Students to do their duty and protect the interests of all.

We call on Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson to increase the total amount of funding available for distribution by the OfS for the 2021-22 academic year, and to remove the requirement to increase funding for STEM subjects at the expense of the creative arts and other C1group subjects. 

We will not accept this assault on the future of art, craft, and design education.

We urge NSEAD members to respond to this consultation as associates of a represntative body. The consultation closes on 6 May. We support the petition organised by the Campaign for the Arts and urge you to sign.