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Williamson: ‘No bias’ against arts subjects in government

Image: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons   

Minister rejects suggestion, despite reduction in funding for high-cost arts and humanities courses

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said there is “certainly no bias” against arts subjects in the Department for Education, as he was questioned on funding cuts for high-cost arts courses.

During a hearing of the House of Commons education committee on 23 June, Williamson was asked by Labour MP for Putney Fleur Anderson whether there was a “bias against arts provision by universities within the department”.

She questioned whether cuts to arts funding by universities—which she claimed had taken place at Roehampton University in her constituency—would be “continuing across the country”. “Will you be ensuring that we do keep a high standard of arts and humanities provision?” she asked. Research Professional News has approached Roehampton for comment.

Anderson was referring to the government’s plans for a 50 per cent reduction in funding for high-cost arts and humanities subjects, in favour of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects. However, higher levels of funding for specialist institutions such as the Royal Academy of Music will be protected.

“To be absolutely clear, there is certainly no bias against arts qualifications,” Williamson said, although he admitted that the changes to the teaching grant—now known as the strategic priorities grant—would mean that “some arts courses and areas are not going to be getting as much money” from the grant.

Williamson’s comments came after seven trade unions, including the University and College Union, published a letter today explaining that they are “aligned in protest against this cut” to high-cost subject funding, “which threatens the health and accessibility of the entertainment and education sectors, jeopardises the livelihoods of HE and creative workers, and narrows training opportunities for future generations”.

‘Demographic bulge’

Elsewhere, Williamson told the committee that the numbers of students who have deferred their university place from last year “are actually very, very small” and that the government has been working with Universities UK and the Russell Group to meet demand from applicants for places.

“As you will be aware, there is also a demographic bulge coming through the university sector at the moment, with more pupils wanting, and being able, to go to university, so we are just working very closely with them,” he said.

Answering a question from Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham Caroline Johnson, Williamson said that pupils who take their GCSE or A-level exams next year “will have obviously suffered disruption as a result of the pandemic”, and so the government “very much expect[s] there to be adjustments and mitigations to be put in place” for grades next year.

He added that the exams process would not be "immediately switching back" to how it was in 2019, before the pandemic, but stressed that it was “absolutely our aim and our intention” for exams to be held next year.

The education secretary also hinted that the government could look into creating degree apprenticeship routes into teaching.

Education committee chair and Conservative MP Robert Halfon said: “If we can have nursing undergraduate degree apprenticeships, and we have policing undergraduate degree apprenticeships, surely it’s time to introduce teaching undergraduate degree apprenticeships?”

Williamson said the government was “always very keen” on an apprenticeship route into careers and “very open to looking at how we can expand that”.