The government’s announcement confirming proposed cuts to funding for arts and humanities courses at universities has been met with widespread disappointment and frustration across the sector. The passionate response across the country to these cuts demonstrates the broad recognition of the vital role played by the arts in shaping society and the values we cherish.
Intentionally or not, the planned funding changes create the perception that the government views the arts as being at best a secondary and even a minor player to the UK’s economy, society and culture. This runs counter to the priorities at many universities, where the arts are and will remain an important part of teaching, the student experience, research and innovation.
Like many others across the UK, in line with our values we at Kent have invested significantly in our academic arts provision over many years, most recently through the establishment of our Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries (iCCi). We remain fully committed to ensuring that the Kent and Medway region continues to grow as an artistic and creative hub for the benefit of all.
Crucially, it should not be a case of ‘either/or’ – of the arts or the sciences
There is sound logic to this approach. As a whole, the creative industries contributed £116bn in gross value added (GVA) in 2019 and support 1 in every 16 jobs (DCMS 2019). That is an achievement built upon a world-leading national arts education that trains creative, entrepreneurial graduates. We need to secure the talent pipeline in order to maintain our world-leading position in this sector. Rather than cutting back, this is an area that the government should be seeking to build up and diversify.
The university is experiencing a large and growing interest in our arts programmes from prospective students and partners, including local schools and arts organisations. Both teaching and research staff and students from our arts programmes at Kent work for the benefit of many – from children with autism and adults with dementia to our heritage economy. In those areas, we see very clearly the fundamental interdependency of art and design and digital technology, of science and creativity, in protecting the workforce against automation and in creating the jobs of the future.
Crucially, it should not be a case of ‘either/or’ – of the arts or the sciences. Work in the sciences benefits greatly from the perspectives of those working in the arts, and vice versa. The Covid-19 pandemic shows how many of us need the arts as part of our everyday lives: to think, to explore and to feel connected. Universities can build on this to grow those opportunities for their communities – the best example of this at Kent is our Gulbenkian Arts Centre, which acts as an important destination for visitors, touring companies and performers from the UK and abroad, and makes a significant contribution both to the economic and to the cultural life of the region.
The arts have long played a central role in UK society, contributing significantly to the economy, to our international prestige, to social mobility, and to public and individual wellbeing. Withdrawing government support for university provision will inevitably have an adverse impact that extends well beyond the running of particular programmes. Thousands of talented young people who would benefit enormously from the opportunities provided by the arts would have that opportunity removed, at the very moment when, in the wake of the pandemic, the vital importance of what the arts have to offer to society is being widely acknowledged. It is thus essential that the government’s proposed cuts do not go unchallenged.
Shane Weller is professor of comparative literature and deputy vice-chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Kent.
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