“No art to savage British cuts”

Although the UK media have not ventured to challenge the proposed cuts to Arts and Humanities set out by Browne-nose and Chums, other media outlets around the world have. One such outlet is The Australian and an article by Christina Slade, dean of arts and social sciences at City University London, entitled ‘No Art to Savage British Cuts’.

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SLASHING funding to the humanities and social sciences is short-sighted.

THE collective noun for deans of arts, social sciences and humanities, DASSH, was coined in Australia but has reached Britain.

A 50-strong DASSH of British deans met at London South Bank University late last month, following the publication of the report of the Browne review of higher education funding.

We discussed the British government decision to cut all subsidies to teaching in arts, social sciences and humanities from 2012.

Universities in England estimate they will need to charge students at least pound stg. 7000 ($11,337) a year for courses in these subjects.

There will be a cap of pound stg. 9000, not included in the initial recommendations. All costs will be borne by students, including part-timers, to whom loans will be available against repayment when incomes reach pound stg. 21,000 a year.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics will continue to receive a subsidy.

Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council of England, and Geoffrey Crossick, vice-chancellor of the University of London, counselled DASSH against despair.

Langlands reminded us of the first paragraph of the Browne report, which highlights the importance of higher education to a civilised society: Higher education matters. It helps create the knowledge, skills and values that underpin a civilised society. Higher education institutions generate and diffuse ideas, safeguard knowledge, catalyse innovation, inspire creativity, enliven culture, stimulate regional economies and strengthen civil society. He did note parenthetically that universities generated pound stg. 59 billion a year for the economy, when the banks were being bailed out to the tune of pound stg. 117bn.

Crossick took up the theme of the place of arts and humanities at the centre of the university curriculum, while others have argued that if the government wants to invest in a higher education system to build the knowledge economy, then it neglected the arts, social sciences and humanities at its peril.

Britain’s cultural and creative industries, which are the biggest in the world as a proportion of gross domestic product (7.3 per cent), make the biggest absolute contribution to exports (nearly pound stg. 9bn) of any country. National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts studies indicated last year that it was the creative industries that led Britain out of recession.

British universities are highly ranked in the arts and social sciences. Increasing international students would be one strategic response.

However, the Coalition has promised to reduce immigration from 196,000 a year to tens of thousands. The Home Secretary’s migration advisory committee pointed out on November 18 that overseas students, with family reunion, will bear 80 per cent of that reduction.

At the same time, higher education in Scotland, where there are no fees, is increasingly attractive to students from the south.

Browne’s report has yet to be debated in parliament and legislation is some way off. However, the alteration to university fees falls under the 1994 act. The Coalition is pushing for a vote before Christmas. Liberal Democrats, who went into the election opposing fee rises, are divided, with Nick Clegg now solidly behind it.

Academics and students have protested. On November 10, 20,000 (police estimate) to 50,000 took to the streets of London in protest, culminating in a violent attack on Conservative head office at Millbank Tower. More protests are planned.

Richard Lambert, director-general of the Council of British Industries and author of the Lambert review of business-university collaboration in 2003, spoke at the Royal Institution on November 11. Special support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics remains high on his agenda. David Sweeney, a senior HEFCE official, pointed out to the audience, largely from business and engineering, that many engineering graduates could not find employment.

Lambert is a history graduate who went on to join the Financial Times.

A scan of the cabinet shows that of 23 full members, 20 have university qualifications in arts, social sciences or law (of the exceptions, one is a medico, another went to Sandhurst military academy and one to a polytechnic). Ten have arts degrees, six studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford, including Prime Minister David Cameron; the Foreign Secretary William Hague; and Danny Alexander, Secretary to the Treasury. Clegg studied social anthropology at Cambridge. Only seven were not educated in Oxbridge. Lambert was Balliol.

This is the government that is choosing to reduce state funding for arts, social sciences and humanities.

One DASSH wag says cabinet is bedazzled by the science they do not understand. Others note that the Russell Group of research-intensive universities will have little difficulty attracting students at higher fee levels.

According to many commentators, the Browne report is ushering in the greatest change in British higher education since the Robbins report of 1963. The DASSH of British deans is likely to be much reduced in size.”

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