By Sophie Robinson.
March 2020 saw a sudden and drastic change to the way humanity entertained themselves.
No longer was seeing friends for a drink a viable option, and live events abruptly became a
thing of the past.
For those who were unable to work during the pandemic or had their living room quickly
transformed into a 24/7 office, there was suddenly a question of how to fill the time. And
the answer was obvious: the arts. Streaming giant Netflix had a surge of over 16 million new
subscriptions, National Theatre Live had a record amount of people tuning in for their
livestreamed performances and music platform Spotify had a paid membership boom in the
fourth quarter of lockdowns. If 18 months of lockdown taught us anything, it’s that the arts
are an invaluable lifeline for people. So, it doesn’t take much to see that the UK
governments devastating 50% funding cuts for art and design courses at universities is
incredibly damaging. Not only is it a direct attack on the livelihoods of those who work in
the arts sector, but it will also extremely impair the aspirations of the working-class youth
who, unlike their middle-class acquaintances, may only be able to access the arts through
school and university.
I wanted to speak to those studying the courses that risk being underfunded, to get their
take on these outrageous financial decisions.
Daniel, he/him, 20, from Edinburgh, studying a Fine Art MA at the Edinburgh College of
‘The course content is incredibly diverse, focusing not only on allowing students to develop
systems with which to structure projects in the practical sense, but also building their
knowledge of art history, and art theory - which are particularly valuable areas of knowledge
for participating in the contemporary art scene in every and any capacity.
The course has given me the space to take risks in my own work, whilst allowing enough
support to avoid feeling completely lost. This has led to me feeling very confident working
independently. Furthermore, seeing art history with a broader view than that understood in
our ‘western colonial’ popular culture has brought a greater appreciation for ideas and
values held in different cultures, both contemporary and historical.
Both my parents work in the arts, so I haven’t received any backlash from them as they both
went to art schools. My school obviously wanted me to do something more academic
because I had high academic attainment but equally, teachers recognised that I was
determined to do what I wanted to do and didn’t put any roadblocks in my way -
occasionally giving me opportunities to integrate my create interests into my academic
studies. I was very lucky in that sense.
The government cuts, to me, appear to be blatant class warfare committed against those
already disadvantaged by Conservative austerity, by an ever more fascistic Tory government. Quite simply, the cuts will not impact the wealthy as much as those less well off - an issue generally with cuts to education - as the wealthy have greater opportunity to
hire tutors or attend supplementary private courses, etc. We’ve seen with covid that the
ugly face of the attainment gap is shown in all its true horror when families are relied on to
provide their own learning materials - whether it be laptops or jotters and schoolbooks.
When students are relied on to provide their own materials for arts courses, these
inequalities become similarly apparent, as what students can work with, and learn with, is limited not by the scale of their ambition, but by the size of their bank account. Teaching
contact hours are already incredibly limited, and the budgets of art departments around the
country are already incredibly tight.
Without the support of teaching staff, without the materials, without our own governments support, students studying in the arts will feel a direct and devastating reduction in the quality of their education. What’s worse however, is that we will face another generation of talented young people who may reconsider their ambitions within the arts because of the economic cost. Not only is this a great shame for those students but will come at both a great cultural AND economic price to us all.’
Alicia, she/her, 20, from Harrogate, studying Theatre and Performance at the University of
‘Although I’ve only been studying this course for a year so far, it has massively benefitted
me already. It offers a brilliant step up from high school drama with the opportunity to
explore art and theatre in depth. I’ve not only been able to explore what performance is but
also what performance is to me, and its profound usage in everyday life. I was also able to
perform many practical tasks and enjoyed them despite being under covid restrictions. I
have greatly developed my practical skill and my theatrical knowledge.
For me, one of the most beneficial moments of my course was during a module called
‘Exploring performance in different cultures and contexts’. It offered a refreshing alternative
to the mainstream western-centric curriculum. For my assessment presentation I was able
to explore performance within St Kitts Independence Day. This allowed me to connect my
course of study and my passion of theatre with my roots in Caribbean culture. I’ve never
experienced any major backlash for choosing this course, but it is obviously not respected as
much as other degrees. People will laugh at you or assume that your course is super easy.
Once, I remember telling my high school physics teacher I needed to revise for my drama
exam, and he laughed and said, ‘Don’t you drama queens just dance around on the desks in
the exam hall?’.
I am disgusted by these funding cuts but sadly I am not surprised. A lot of people’s lack of
respect for theatre and performance is driven by misconceptions surrounding the subject.
Performance isn’t just people dancing around on a stage, it’s part of our everyday lives. It
contributes to our learned behaviours and our social interactions. It is the basis of every
movement. Every protest, every festival, every speech is a form of performance. It is
simplified so it can be easily ridiculed.
These cuts are damaging and hypocritical. Politicians cannot simultaneously condemn
theatre and watch TV or films or Netflix. Without theatre none of these things would even
exist, and in a society driven by media how can we pretend that the arts are not important?
Art is so unique in the fact that there are no parameters or limits. The only thing art must do
to be considered art is to make you feel something. Even if you simply feel entertained or
distracted. Art is one of the only subjects that requires humanity. Things like Maths and the
laws of science would exist whether humans discovered them or not, but art is intrinsically
Of course, these cuts will also impact working class and therefore people of colour the most.
Middle- and upper-class people can afford to attend theatre schools, dance clubs, and learn
how to play musical instruments. However, many rely on their school curriculums for access
to the arts. So effectively the government is simply making it harder for working class
people and people of colour to explore what they are passionate about. These cuts are devastating, and we can only hope that all these Tories see how damaging their choices are
before it’s too late.’
Athena, she/they, 20, lives in Bath but born in Ireland, studying Commercial Music at Bath
‘Going into the first year of my course, it sort of felt like a catch-up session, repeating
everything that I had learnt in college and myself over the first few years of becoming
serious about music. It wasn’t unwelcoming though-I felt like it had solidified the basics that
I needed to know, especially about music production. Moving onto the second year of
commercial music felt like a little bit of a rollercoaster ride, while there was some incredibly
useful information being brought to the table there was also a lot of times where it felt that
we weren’t being pushed to our potential nor being listened to about the direction of our
careers and life. This was a small percentage of the time though, so I think we’re very lucky
with what we have on the course. The best opportunities we have, however, are the doors
that have been opened for us and the love we receive on our lifes work.
Personally, I’ve found such a change in myself since starting the course. It encourages you to
try new things and push yourself to lengths you don’t think you could. I’ve become a more
confident musician and more confident in myself as a person. I found that through the
building of my skills in music on this course and the knowledge that I have gained I’ve
become self-assured that I am on the right path which in turn helps to build self-composure.
I was given an outlet to express myself through the course, especially in a module called
It’s always felt like I've been met with resistance, not even just beginning here with the
course in university. For example, in secondary school I got chosen to attend the University
fair because my “goals were unrealistic” (aka I wanted to do something that wasn’t admin). I
found that coming to university for music has distanced me from the people I once
considered friends that were telling me it was unrealistic and that it was a waste of time.
I’m now surrounded by talented and like-minded people who are driven just as much as myself.
It is no secret that the arts are a part of every industry. I would like to see companies thrive
without logos, without websites, without advertisement. Radios would be redundant, and
there would be no photographers to fill politicians’ egos when they walk out of Number 11.
It’s upsetting to know that all the work that we put in over quarantine, raising money,
finding ways to keep the music industry alive and frankly, finding ways to keep our passion
alive, has been spit on by the government. I personally would like to see the country survive
a lockdown with media, without social media, without TV, without music, without art. We
all know the answer is that it would be impossible, and they know that too, but it doesn’t
directly affect them, so they don’t care. This isn’t the first cut we’ve seen while we’re in
education and I doubt it will be the last. We had to run fundraisers in my secondary school
so we could afford to not be studying in a temporary building.
The students must work their passion at 11-16 just to be able to continue with it. It feels hopeless most times, that I dedicate my life to a craft, something I would beg for as a child, and I’m forced out of it either way. So many involved in arts will lose their taste for life and it won’t make a difference because as far as the government is concerned if their seats are warm, they’re happy.