A Blinkered Approach to Arts and Education

As has been reported widely in the UK, the government has vowed to crack down on what it sees as ‘low value’ degree courses by withdrawing government funding. There is a strong view that such a move would deprive many students, often from lower socio-economic backgrounds, from the experience of higher education.

What, though, is a low value’ degree course? As you might expect, it is a course which the government believes educates students ‘without improving their earning potential’. As you might expect from a government led by a banker, the only value in a degree is a financial one. If your degree doesn’t lead to a healthy bank account, it isn’t worth having. The implication is, of course, that the education itself is valueless.

So if your vocation is social work, community support or caring, for example, higher education is of no value to you. The government thinks you don’t earn enough to warrant intellectual curiosity, to develop your thinking and your skills.

The Unacknowledged Value of the Arts

It is widely perceived that arts courses are primarily in the firing line in favour of the more tangible benefits of science, mathematics and economics degrees. English courses have seen a sharp decline in applications. Yet the publishing industry in the UK directly employs about 29,000 people. More than 35 million people a year visit UK theatres. The governments own figure in 2018 acknowledged that the ‘creative industries contributed more than £111bn to the UK economy’.

More importantly that the revenues, perhaps, the arts in various forms help us see, feel, understand, grieve, feel joy, feel outrage… They are vital ways in which artists reflect on our society and our times.

writer kit de waalAs writer Kit de Waal, now Jean Humphreys Writer in Residence at Leicester University, says:

Art is essential, and I think it’s really important we keep saying that…

From her experience at the university, she adds comments further on who will be affected by the cuts:

The people that are going to be the worst hit by this will be working-class students, because those who have the safety net of family money, or networking connections, will be able to still afford to do it, or travel to do it…

Read the full article here.

But Books Will Thrive

bookshopYet, at the same time, books continue to sell, and not just through the big stores like Waterstones. The number of independent booksellers in the UK and Ireland actually reached a 10-year high last year.

A rethinking of what bookshops can do, as a key source within communities, has revitalised them and made them of real value, as you can read here in an article about Birmingham’s bookshops.