skip to main content

Take Part in the Consultation on Government’s Plans for Higher Education Music and Arts in England

New Government plans to limit access to higher education music and the arts in England. We've put together a guide to the consultation's questions and key points to raise.

Published: 22 March 2022 | 5:00 PM
four students walking down the stairs of the college
The MU Education Department has highlighted key questions to answer and important points to raise in the consulation, which you can find below.

New Government plans to limit access to higher education music and the arts in England will have a big impact, now and in the future.

While some plans are confirmed policy, others are up for consultation. The Musicians’ Union urges members to take part before the Friday 6 May deadline.

Take part in the consultation

If you’re not sure what to say, the MU’s Education Department has put together a guide to the questions and key points to raise.

What is a consultation and how do they work?

A consultation is a process for the Government to get your views on proposed changes to policy.

Anyone can take part in a consultation. In this case, the MU encourages all music teachers, music students, and prospective students to take part.

Government is also inviting comments from Higher Education providers, schools, further education institutions, trade unions, graduate employers, and other stakeholders. Not all consultations are widely publicised, so it’s important to share this consultation with people you know so they can have their say too.

An easy read version of the consultation should be made available. Please contact the Department of Education on 0370 000 2288 or via HE-Reform.consulation@education.gov.uk with any questions about access or reasonable adjustments.

You can ask the Department for Education to keep your response confidential, and there is a specific question about this in the consultation.

Making the case for music

The MU Education Department has highlighted key questions to answer and important points to raise, which you can find below.

Remember to add in your personal knowledge and experience to each answer; your insights and experiences are important and sharing this information is crucial to good policymaking.

Take part in the consultation

Question 1: SNCs in principle

Question 1 asks: “What are your views of SNCs as an intervention to prioritise provision with the best outcomes and to restrict the supply of provision which offers poorer outcomes? Please explain your answer and give evidence where possible. If you consider there are alternative interventions which could achieve the same objective more effectively or efficiently, please detail these in your submission.”

“SNCs” mean “student number controls.” If implemented, they would mean a limit on the number of students that can enrol on Higher Education courses. Currently there are no limits on student numbers.

Important points to raise in your answer include:

  • The Government’s proposals around SNCs are underpinned by factually incorrect assumptions including “higher-cost courses, such as STEM provision, are often better investments for students, society and the economy.” In fact, music is worth £5.8bn a year to the UK economy in good times and the creative industries contribute £112bn, which makes courses in these subjects vital for society and the economy, and therefore just as valuable as STEM subjects.
  • The proposed criteria for SNCs – including courses with higher drop-outs – will disproportionately punish poorer, disabled and minority ethnic students who often cannot complete courses due to social and economic factors, not because the courses they are attending are poor. The Government’s proposals fail to acknowledge this. Nor do the proposals acknowledge that university student cohorts can vary widely, with some universities serving disproportionately poorer students who face more challenging life experiences.
  • Monitoring the quality of courses should be enough to ensure value for students and the taxpayer. We would never restrict the numbers of children who can enter school education if schools were found to be poor. Instead, we would seek to improve schools. The Government’s logic on SNCs is therefore fundamentally flawed.

Question 2: SNCs in practice

Question 2 asks: “What are your views on how SNCs should be designed and set, including whether assessments of how many students providers can recruit should be made at:

  • Sector level?
  • Provider level?
  • Subject level?
  • Level of course?
  • Mode of course?

Please explain your answer and give evidence where possible.”

  • SNCs should not be implemented in any of these areas.
  • The Government’s logic on SNCs is fundamentally flawed for the following reasons. The Government’s proposals around SNCs are underpinned by factually incorrect assumptions around the value of music, arts and creative industries to the UK economy. The proposed criteria for SNCs will disproportionately punish poorer, disabled, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic students. The proposals for SNCs fail to recognise that university student cohorts can vary widely across locations and institutions. Monitoring the quality of courses should be enough to ensure value for students and the taxpayer. Courses that are found to be poor should be improved – not scrapped.

Question 3: considering outcomes

Question 3 asks: “What are your views of the merits of these various approaches to consider outcomes and/or do you have any other suggestions? Please explain your answer and give evidence where possible.”

  • SNCs should not be implemented. The Government’s logic on SNCs is fundamentally flawed for the following reasons. The Government’s proposals around SNCs are underpinned by factually incorrect assumptions around the value of music, arts and creative industries to the UK economy. The proposed criteria for SNCs will disproportionately punish poorer, disabled, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic students. The proposals for SNCs fail to recognise that university student cohorts can vary widely across locations and institutions. Monitoring the quality of courses should be enough to ensure value for students and the taxpayer. Courses that are found to be poor should be improved – not scrapped.
  • Courses can be reviewed for quantifiable and societal impact – as long as this takes into account that drop-out rates are not necessarily the fault of courses and can instead be because of socioeconomic issues faced by some universities’ student cohorts – but reviewing should not be used to limit student numbers, as it is not clear how this would drive up quality in any way.
  • SNCs should not be implemented at all in relation to the Government’s “strategic priorities”, which are themselves completely unevidenced despite this consultation asking respondents to provide accompanying evidence for every answer.

Question 5: minimum eligibility requirements

Question 5 asks: “Do you agree with the case for a minimum eligibility requirement to ensure that taxpayer-backed student finance is only available to students best equipped to enter HE? Yes or No. Please explain your answer and give evidence where possible.”

No. If a student is accepted on to a course, they should be eligible for a student loan. It is the HE provider’s responsibility to ensure that students are accepted onto appropriate courses.

Question 6: minimum GCSE requirements

Question 6 asks: “Do you think that a grade 4 in English and maths GCSE (or equivalent), is the appropriate threshold to set for eligibility to student finance, to evidence the skills required for success in HE degree (L6) study? Yes or No. Please explain your answer and provide reference to any pedagogical or academic sources of evidence to explain your reasoning.”

  • No. If a student is accepted on to a course, they should be eligible for a student loan. It is the HE provider’s responsibility to ensure that students are accepted onto appropriate courses. 
  • Also, according to DfE data, the mean percentage of students achieving 9-4 in both English and maths at GCSE (2020/21) was 71.6%. This would automatically exclude 28.4% of all students from student loans.
  • Students with additional needs or facing other challenges may not achieve good GCSE grades but, with support, can go on to succeed later. It is vital that we do not exclude these students.

Question 7: minimum A Level requirements

Question 7 asks: “Do you think that two E grades at A-level (or equivalent) is the appropriate threshold to set for eligibility to student finance, to evidence the skills required for success in HE degree (L6) study? Yes or No. Please explain your answer and provide reference to any pedagogical or academic sources of evidence to explain your reasoning.”

  • No. If a student is accepted on to a course, they should be eligible for a student loan. It is the HE provider’s responsibility to ensure that students are accepted onto appropriate courses.
  • Two E grades at A level is less excluding than two 4 grades in GCSE English and maths, but some students would nevertheless be excluded unfairly.
  • Students with additional needs or facing other challenges may not achieve good A level grades but, with support, can go on to succeed in education later. These students should not be excluded.

Question 10: exemptions to MERS

Question 10 asks: “Do you agree that there should be an exemption to the proposed MERs for students with existing level 4 and 5 qualifications? Yes or No. Please explain your answer and give evidence where possible.”

MERS means minimum entry requirements.

  • No. If a student is accepted on to a course, they should be eligible for a student loan. It is the HE provider’s responsibility to ensure that students are accepted onto appropriate courses.
#BehindEveryMusician

Protect Higher Education music in England

Government plans to limit access to higher education music and the arts in England will have a big impact, now and in the future.

Protect Higher Education music in England

Continue reading

Photograph of a close up of a young flute player, practicing in a classroom setting. Behind them we can see other performers and a teacher figure.

MU Urges New Education Secretary and Schools Minister to Work Together to Protect Music Education

Following the sacking of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Schools Minister Nick Gibb – and their replacement by Nadhim Zahawi and Robin Walker respectively – the MU urges the new ministers to work together to address systemic problems affecting music education in England.

Published: 17 September 2021

Read more about MU Urges New Education Secretary and Schools Minister to Work Together to Protect Music Education

Get support as a music teacher through MU membership

The MU has a strong community of teaching musicians with over 7,800 members. We have music education specialist officials and advise music teachers on the specific issues, including pay and contractual issues, career advice, employment and legal advice.

Get support as a music teacher through MU membership