The power of creativity: what cutting funding to arts in universities means

Meg Timbrell
Content & Social Media Manager
5 min read

"You ask a room full of three-year-olds, 'who in here is an artist?' nearly every child will raise her hand.

When you ask the same question of a group of adults, you might get a few reluctant responses. What happened to us along the way? Where did we lose this sense that we are creative?" - Jyoti Singh

The government has made the decision to cut funding to arts subjects at higher education institutions in England by 50%, redirecting this funding to STEM subjects. The subjects affected include art, design, music, drama, dance, media studies and journalism.

The lack of funding for these subjects will inevitably cause a lot of these departments and institutions to close completely, shutting off a lot of opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career in the arts.

Geographical "cold spots" of creativity across the country will therefore be formed, creating a lack of opportunity and access to the creative industries.

Of course, STEM subjects are important but no less important than the arts.

We asked Carmen Teppett, a student at Mountview Drama School, to provide some of her thoughts on the cuts:

"Throughout the pandemic especially, I have constantly heard talk of 'key industries'. Despite the fact that for many of us the arts were key to surviving lockdown, it's been an industry that is constantly let down by the government when it comes to support.

Having been fortunate enough to train in a London drama school, I know how vital it can be for a performer's career to have access to higher educational facilities to develop their skillset.

Without this industry, I wouldn't have a career or be where I am today, and to see future generations being let down is heartbreaking."

So why are arts subjects important?

Arts subjects develop important skills

We asked Lorraine Gamman, Professor of Design at the Design Against Crime Research Centre at Central Saint Martins in the University of the Arts in London, about her thoughts on the importance of the arts.

Lorraine quoted this research from Kingston University's 'Future Skills Report', which includes the 'Future Skills League Table' - taken from interviews with universities and businesses who were asked to cite their Top 20 skills to protect the UK's global competitiveness.

All of these skills are cultivated through the study of arts subjects and are often boosted more than when studying non-arts subjects. Arts subjects quite often require greater levels of dedication, time management skills, and the ability to think outside of the box and with originality - important assets to employees in any industry.

Lorraine also commented on the importance of creative education in the prison system, and that arts subjects are far more effective at finding prisoners employment and resettlement, something that Making For Change are paving the way for. Employment, when supported by appropriate education and training, is key to reducing reoffending in women.

The late Sir Ken Robinson spoke of the power of creativity in education, that:

"I think that creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it as the same status."

Creativity is the solution to global issues

Creative solutions are exactly what we need in response to global issues like climate change and pandemics. We asked Sort's co-founder, Lucy Griffiths, about her views on the cuts to arts subjects:

"While STEM subjects are important and valuable and have needed support, there's a risk that when we place so much emphasis on them, we might diminish the huge value that creativity and the arts can bring.

The global challenges we face: climate change, pandemics, poverty, social care, and so many more, need those who understand humanity, can tell our stories, and can find new and creative solutions just as much as they need our technical skill and competence.

There has been a systematic devaluing of the public image of arts over the past few decades that puts us at risk of losing touch with the things that make the human race unique. Instead, we should recognise that learning how to connect through storytelling, empathy, and reflection, are important and valuable skills that all human beings can and should gain."

Creative industries are safe from automation

Can robots create art, music, or act on stage? Some may argue yes, to some extent, but will robots or technology really ever have the same ability as human beings to be creative or evoke emotion?

Jobs in so many sectors are under threat from technology, and it's tricky to know which ones will be safe in the future. A study carried out in 2015 by Nesta ('Creativity vs. Robots') found that:

"...the creative sector was to some extent immune to this threat, with 86% of ‘highly creative’ jobs in the US, and 87% in the UK, having no or low risk of being displaced by automation."

Our economy & culture need the arts

Many of us would argue that over the past year, the arts have been what has gotten us through the many lockdowns. Whether it's watching Netflix, streaming music, or getting creative by discovering a new hobby, the arts are what connect us as a society and are a fundamental part of our economy too.

Sarah Kogan on Instagram commented that:

"Devaluing the arts disempowers us as a society leaving us poorer, both culturally and economically."

The creative industries worth to the UK economy was valued (pre-Covid) at around £116 billion - larger than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences, and oil and gas sectors combined.

With the creative industries being so valuable, it's difficult to see why arts subjects are being de-funded and undervalued.

What this means for me

As we've seen above, arts subjects are vital for a number of reasons. If you've taken our job role quiz and the top roles matched to your interests and skills are arts-based, don't be disheartened. If you're in the position of choosing subjects or career pathways, don't give up on your passions of the arts or creative subjects, even if it might feel like the government has. Who knows if your creativity and talent for the arts may be what the world needs next?

Share your thoughts on the arts cuts via email at megan.timbrell@sortyourfuture.com! We love hearing from you.

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