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Who Will HE Funding Cuts Disproportionately Affect?

An explanation of how cuts to HE Funding for music and arts subjects in England are likely to have a disproportionate effect on disabled, Black, Asian and minority ethnic students and students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Photo ofJohn Shortell
By John Shortell Published: 13 May 2021 | 7:18 PM Updated: 21 July 2023 | 12:02 PM
Photograph of a collection of music stands and chairs in a music learning setting.
Removing funding will almost certainly negatively impact widening participation and diversity and inclusion agendas. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Government’s proposed 50% cut to top-up funding for music and arts subjects at Higher Education (HE) in England would be catastrophic for all music students. But they would have an even more disproportionate effect on disabled, Black, Asian and minority ethnic students and students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

We already know from our own research on class and access to music education that young people from low-income backgrounds struggle to access music lessons at school; now those who do manage could face another hurdle in pursing music at HE and as a career.

Cuts to funding mean potentially fewer universities offering music courses, which means students will have less choice on where and what they study. The proposals run against the need for more diversity in the music industry.

Another barrier to higher education

Funding cuts would present an additional barrier to students who already face multiple barriers to studying music at university. Access to higher education is bound up with historical inequalities that must be addressed via several intersecting policies, all of which need to be supported by adequate funding.

Objectives such as widening participation require universities to have adequate resources and opportunities for students from under-represented backgrounds to develop their skills. Some of the universities most vulnerable to the cuts enrol considerable numbers of local students from low socio-economic backgrounds, many requiring additional support to complete their education.

Removing funding from these universities will almost certainly negatively impact widening participation and diversity and inclusion agendas, and undermine the considerable work happening in the music industry to tackle these issues.

Poverty is a major factor in under-representation of groups not accessing HE. Black and minority ethnic households in the UK are over twice as likely to live in poverty as their white counterparts, leaving them disproportionately exposed to funding cuts. Nearly half of people in the UK living in poverty are disabled people or live with a disabled person.  

More funding is needed, not less

This HE funding cut cannot be viewed in isolation. It will have a knock-on effect for all areas of the music industry from producers to music teachers. The sector and its diversity will be worse off due to these cuts.

Disabled and Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are already under-represented in the teaching workforce. Cutting funding will only limit the amount of people from these communities pursuing careers as music educators and will almost certainly widen the gap that already exists for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students to study music at postgrad level.

Diversity of voices and experiences as well as visible role models are essential to tackling issues of diversity and inclusion that already exist in the music education sector. More targeted funding to include underrepresented groups needs to be made available to tackle these issues, not less.

Disabled students will be disproportionately affected

According to Office for Students diversity data, creative subjects have “the highest proportion of any broad subject group to have a reported disability”. Cutting funding for creative subjects, including music, means that disabled students are going to be disproportionality impacted.

Disabled students already face major barriers accessing university education and pursuing a career as a musician. Research by Youth Music found that 67% of disabled music makers identified financial reasons as a severe or moderate access barrier to music making, and Drake Music has commented that the cuts will be “catastrophic for inclusion and diversity in generations to come”.

The consultation itself didn’t seem to consider accessibility. It was poorly advertised, the time frame was short, and the questions were confusing – all of which will have made it inaccessible to lots of people.

HE funding cuts impact more than courses

As part of the same consultation, proposals to remove a significant London weighting subsidy would create additional financial pressure for universities at a time when they are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, which will have a massive impact on them.

A third of London boroughs are still in the top 30% of the most deprived across England. Many universities in London, which would take a double hit from arts cut alongside the proposal to remove London weighting, accept a lot of students from local and low socio-economic backgrounds. Ultimately it is these students who will suffer as London universities will have to find ways to quickly deal with the costs of the cuts.

Realistically this will mean reducing student support services and cutting staff and courses, all of which will negatively impact students. Many of these students will not be able to afford to travel to other universities or move cities to live on campus at a different university where music courses may be available.

This is the Government levelling down, not up

It seems that as part of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, funds are being diverted away from London to the rest of the country. Levelling up can’t be achieved through redistribution of existing funds, because those funds are already not enough. The education sector, and more specifically the arts education sector, needs more funding; not a fight over the little that currently exists.

The lack of consideration to the disproportionate affect the cuts will have on some of the most marginalised students must mean that the Government has failed to do a robust assessment of the potential equality impact. Equality, diversity and inclusion are sliding even further down the Government’s agenda and as an industry, we can’t allow this to happen.

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