The University of Kent’s School of Music and Fine Arts has recently confirmed it will close as an academic entity by July 2019. It will allow full-time MA applications for 2017 entries only, according to local online newspaper Kent Online.
The University of Kent’s fine art department was a highly competitive and well-regarded institution, with two of the department’s students having won the Platform Graduate Art Award. The university placed seventh in the Guardian’s 2017 ‘league table for art’, a guide that specifically analyses the study of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking and other media.
In a statement released by the University of Kent, the decision to close the school and cease the fine arts is a direct response “to changing student demand… while hoping to offer new undergraduate programmes.”
“The university has put these proposals forward with a great deal of regret…unfortunately we can’t make these programmes sustainable,” the Dean of Humanities at the University of Kent, Simon Kirchin, commented.
Meanwhile, Kent Online reported the school had a million pound deficit, which the university could not continue to subsidise.
The decline in arts department is hitting other universities, too. Canterbury Christ Church University has closed its BA in fine arts, leaving the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) at Canterbury one of the few UK universities to still provide a fine art programme.
The arts crisis isn’t only affecting higher education institutions. According to the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), figures show the number of students completing A levels in creative arts and technical subjects in 2016-17 has dropped by 2 per cent, compared with the previous year.
This continuing decline of the arts is due to the funding crisis sweeping through schools in England. Although the Conservatives pledged more funding for schools in the last election, the real picture is more complex, and more worrying.
In December 2016, Secretary of Education Justine Greening proposed a controversial new reform known as the New Funding Formula. It is currently in its second stage of consultation and is expected to be rolled out fully in 2018. This new government reform challenges the former school funding system, which allocated money inconsistently across English schools. The aim of the reform is to redistribute and allocate funding more consistently, and mend the large gap in pupil and school inequality throughout the country.
However, the Department of Education also acknowledged that the new national funding formula could result in devastating outcomes. The Education Policy Institute (EPI) published a report explaining the implications of this reform, stating that many schools will actually see reductions in their budgets.
They warn that the distribution of funding based on area deprivation means that pupils who live in the least deprived areas will experience the highest relative gains. Meanwhile the National Union of Teachers predicts that “unless the Government
allocates more money, schools will lose £3 billion a year in real terms by 2020.”
In London, the most disadvantaged primary and secondary schools in London are expected to see an overall loss of around £16.1m by 2019-20.
Without a clear outcome, the new funding formula has piled extra pressure on to schools which are already having to make cutbacks. Schools are axing support staff, resulting in increased class sizes and reductions to the current curriculum. Some go as far as planning to reduce teaching hours.
Such sharp redistribution is leading to arts courses – which are categorised as “less academic” – being axed from curricula altogether.
These drastic measures have drawn the attention of researchers form Sussex University’s School of Education and Social Work, who warn that music and art “could be facing extinction in the classroom.”
Unions also warn that even the so-called winners in the funding shakeup are likely to see their gains outweighed by real-terms cuts to their funding over the next three years. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found that nearly half of the schools in England are already under pressure to solely focus in core compulsory subjects, referred to as ‘the more academic courses’.
The continued funding crisis is already affecting which AS levels students are choosing to sit. Figures from the most recent batch of AS level students show a dramatic decline in Drama and Music exam entries, which have fallen by over 50 per cent.
In addition, a fifth of teachers in UK schools say a staggering 18 per cent of the student body have dropped Music and Arts as GCSE options in the last year, according to a survey conducted by ASCL.
The erosion of arts in the national curriculum may well see parents choosing to provide tuition privately for their children, with those who are economically less fortunate missing out. The knock-on effect on universities is already seriously affecting the UK’s academic landscape. Students are already being deprived of
opportunity, and it remains to be seen whether the arts will make it back on to the national agenda and weather the funding crisis.