The Royal Musical Association strongly opposes the proposals from the Office of Students to cut Band C funding to courses in the performing and creative arts, media studies and archaeology by 50%. As the learned society for music in Britain, we are concerned about the devastating impact this will have on the creative arts, compounding the damage that has been caused by the pandemic and the lack of touring agreements in the Brexit negotiations, which are already disrupting the careers of world-class professionals based in the UK. Music is highly economically significant, contributing £5.8 billion to the UK economy in 2019, according to UK Music (https://www.ukmusic.org/research-reports/music-by-numbers-2020/). We believe the proposals under consultation will permanently damage the future of these vital careers and disciplines in this country.
Access to music (and other performing arts) within the education system is already unequal, particularly within the state school sector, with fewer schools and colleges offering A level or BTEC in these subjects. The recent work of the Department for Education to enhance music in schools is an important initiative, but if we are to achieve the promise of the Model Music Curriculum, we need to maintain, and enhance, the progression routes to further study and training. A significant reduction in funding at HE level is likely to lead to the closure of departments across the country since Band C funding is what supports the ability of many HEIs to offer practical tuition to students. Such closures will limit the possibility of studying the subject, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. As an association representing music research in all its forms, we are also concerned that limiting the study of music at HEI level will have a negative impact on the future development of music research in Britain.
Performing arts subjects are known to be beneficial for learning and for wellbeing; indeed, the consultation document appears to recognise their importance for access and participation from areas with low HE engagement, for attracting a high percentage of students with disabilities and for the ‘huge benefit [they bring] to society and our culture’. Of course, a degree in music is also a route to other professions, such as teaching, sound engineering, journalism, festival direction and music therapy as part of healthcare provision for conditions including autism and dementia. While we recognise the value of STEM subjects, a decision to increase funding in these subjects even further (than the currently weighted funding distribution) should not result in damage to the arts. We believe that devaluing the study of the performing arts is culturally divisive, economically short-sighted and will irreversibly impoverish our education system, our highly successful cultural industry and our wider society.
Music in Britain has a rich history in classical, pop, folk and jazz traditions, of which we are rightly proud. 19th-century British musicians travelled to Europe for their musical education, but following the foundation of conservatoires and university music departments from the 1880s onwards, Music in Higher Education has achieved international recognition, attracting musicians from all over the world to come to Britain for their training. Music’s place in Higher Education has been cemented in our culture for well over a century: it has fed into every level of culture in Britain, from West End shows to the Proms and from film and TV soundtracks to our world-leading artists. In 1904 the German writer Oskar Adolf Hermann Schmitz described Britain scornfully as ‘A Land without Music’. We fear that these proposed cuts will cut off the life-blood of Britain’s young talent, either driving them abroad to make their careers, or stifling opportunity altogether. In so doing, we may inadvertently prove Schmitz correct in his assessment.
We ask the Secretary of State for Education to reconsider these drastic measures and to continue to support Music at Higher Education level to complement his much-welcomed boost to school-level Music funding.
Professor Barbara Kelly (President) on behalf of The Royal Musical Association