Proposals to cut funding for art and design courses by 50% across higher education institutions in England have been approved by the government. Students across thirteen subject areas will be impacted by the cuts including art, design, music, drama, dance, media studies and journalism.

The Office for Students (Ofs) insisted that “there is no change to how these subjects are treated for other Ofs funding streams, such as the additional premiums awarded to universities and colleges to support disadvantaged students.”

The controversial decision will specifically cut the Ofs subsidy for each full-time student on an arts course from £243 to £121.50 in the next academic year (2021/22). London universities would also have their London weighting cut under the reforms. This will save around £20 million, which will be diverted to other high-cost subjects, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Since the proposals were announced earlier this year, critics have rallied in defence of the creative industries. “This drastic cut to creative arts funding is one of the biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory,” commented Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union. “The universities most vulnerable are those with a higher number of less well-off students and it is unconscionable to deny them the chance to study subjects like art, drama and music.

Critics have particularly raised concerns about the cuts potential to deplete future talent in the creative industries, which are worth £111 billion a year to the UK economy. British abstract artist Sarah Kogan said “devaluing the arts disempowers us as a society leaving us poorer, both culturally and economically. Arts education provides not only a place for teaching, but also essential centres of research.”

A petition had been launched by Public Campaign for the Arts in protest of the proposal, calling for the government to commit to “proper funding for higher education providers to continue to deliver world-leading arts courses”. The petition attracted more than 166,000 signatures.

Since the announcement, the Department for Education has denied claims that the cuts devalue the arts, stating “the reprioritisation is designed to target taxpayers’ money towards subjects that support the NHS, science, technology and engineering, and the specific needs of the labour market including archeology [given a reprieve from the cuts] which is vital to key industries such as construction and transport.”