University union calls for an end to ‘dangerous assault’ on humanities

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The universities union has called on the Government to act now to stop a “dangerous assault” on arts and humanities provision.

The University and College Union wrote to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Wednesday urging him to reverse Office for Students’ 50% cuts to funding for arts and creative subjects.

In the letter from UCU general secretary Jo Grady, the union raises “serious concerns” over a “new wave” of redundancies and course closures at UK universities, citing recent announcements from De Montfort University, Roehampton University and Wolverhampton University on redundancies, most of which are based in arts and humanities subjects.

UCU said that under current plans, 242 academics would lose their jobs at De Montfort and Roehampton, while at Wolverhampton 146 courses will be culled, most of which are in performing arts, fashion, social sciences, interior design and fine art.

Ms Grady described the plans as a “dangerous assault” on higher education which would damage careers and limit student choices.

She added that the universities had helped to widen access for working-class students and accused vice chancellors of adopting the Government’s “reductive agenda”, which aims to “fuel a bonfire of arts and humanities provision”.

Ms Grady also criticised “frequent public attacks on so-called ‘low value’ courses” and said that proposals to introduce student number controls for certain courses risked narrowing access to the arts to a “small elite”.

Proposals for minimum entry criteria for student loans were also an attempt to “quash the aspirations of working-class students”, she said.

At a speech at the UCU conference on Wednesday, Ms Grady said: “I don’t think there has been a more challenging time to work and campaign within further and higher education in the UK.

“But if the evidence of the last year is anything to go by, our members, our union, is more than up for the fight.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Government continues to back our world-class higher education sector with an additional £750 million worth of funding for universities over the next three years and more 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university than ever before.

“We are boosting creative education by providing a £10 million uplift to world-leading specialist providers in 2021-22, including more than 10 providers specialising in the arts, with a further £5 million planned for 2022-23. This funding will help improve the diversity and quality of creative education provision available to students.”

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