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Proposed 50% HE music funding cut ‘a catastrophic misjudgement’

A statement by the UK's Higher Education music subject association calls for responses to independent regulator's 'baffling' funding consultation

MusicHE, the UK’s subject association for institutions, departments, and individuals dedicated to training and educating the next generation of musicians through higher education, is calling for urgent responses to the Office for Students’ Consultation on recurrent funding for 2021-22.

The consultation calls for a permanent, 50% funding cut to courses ‘not among strategic priorities’, including music, dance, drama and the performing arts, while at the same time stating that such courses ‘are very important, bringing huge benefit to society and our culture, as well as to the individuals who take them’.

MusicHE describes this apparently contradictory position as ‘baffling’, highlights the widespread evidence for the positive impact of music during the Covid-19 pandemic and warns of the impending closure of young people’s routes to access and participation in higher education.

The MusicHE statement

At this time of uncertainty and upheaval, music has proven all the more vital for the preservation of wellbeing, motivation and hope for a better future (eg research conducted during the lockdown provided stronger evidence than ever of the impact of music on reducing lonelinessthe value of singing together, and the importance of music in bringing people together). Collectively we have turned to the arts to get us through a difficult time across the world.

However, in spite of the vital role music and the performing arts play in wellbeing, communities, society and human life, and the huge economic contribution of music within the culture industries, the Office for Students (the independent regulator for higher education in England) is proposing a permanent cut in funding for music in higher education by 50%. The Consultation on recurrent funding for 2021-22 proposes that ‘the courses in price group C1 that are not among its strategic priorities – covering subjects in music, dance, drama and performing arts; art and design; media studies; and archaeology – are to be subject to a reduction of 50 per cent’.

This proposal represents a catastrophic misjudgement. Whilst many STEM subjects see an increase of funding per student, performing arts subjects are relegated to a secondary category, and deemed not to be ‘strategic priorities’.

More baffling still is that the document proposes this slashing of funding, whilst also stating that ‘We believe that courses in the performing arts, creative arts, media studies and archaeology are very important, bringing huge benefit to society and our culture, as well as to the individuals who take them’, and that ‘They make a particularly important contribution to access and participation’.

If funding for our next generation of world-leading musicians and music educators is impacted, pathways for these musicians to take on, shape, and lead the music industry of the future will shrivel. Routes to access and participation in higher education will close for our young people and communities, and the magnificent array of benefits – economic, social, clinical and emotional – that music provides and must continue to bring to society, will be decimated.

At a time when research across STEM and Humanities subjects is acknowledging the full human being (see recent rise in funding and research for the Medical Humanities, for instance), this proposal represents a step backwards and an illogical and fundamentally destructive demarcation – a separation between one group of subjects of study and another, and a bizarre judgement of what is most important to us.

This proposal can, and must, be met with the only sensible response, which is to answer ‘strongly disagree’ to the question on the consultation response form ‘To what extent do you agree with the proposal to split price group C1 in order to implement a reduction of 50 per cent to the high-cost subject funding allocated to subjects in the performing arts; creative arts; media studies and archaeology?’

Issued on behalf of the MusicHE committee and members , 30 April 2021

How to get involved

The consultation closes on 6 May 2021.

Further details of the consultation and how to contribute a response can be found here.