Last Wednesday, the Conservatives announced plans to get rid of the student-maintenance grant across Britain, a subsidy of around $15,000 given to lower-income students over the course of a bachelor’s degree. The grant has been replaced with a loan, disproportionately hurting poorer arts students who are already facing increased tuition fees.
“The young bore the brunt of the economic crisis, which they had no hand in creating,” says Martin Bright, founder of the Creative Society, a youth-employment charity. “This is particularly tough for young creatives, who expect to struggle but can’t live on nothing.”
Such shifts in education could not come at a worse time. The British government is rolling out the controversial new English Baccalaureate examination and certificate for 16-year-olds that critics say emphasizes science at the expense of creativity. “It’s very controversial in the arts and cultural sector,” notes Alistair Brown, policy officer of the U.K.’s Museum Association, a membership body for British museums. “It focuses on five mandatory subjects, most of which conform to the science, maths, and engineering view of the world. There’s a real fear that if pupils are not being measured in cultural subjects, it will effectively devalue the arts.”
These changes, set against severe cuts in public subsidies in recent years, will exacerbate a decline in artistic workforces. Official employment figures released by the British government at the end of June show a 7.2 percent drop in employment in museums, galleries, and libraries between 2011 and last year. What’s more, over the same period, the number of black, Asian, and minority ethnic employees dropped by 11 percent, nearly double the rate of decrease among white workers.
The result is not just an ethnic, but a regional homogenization. This week’s budget announced that local authority staff face below-inflation pay raises of just 1 percent for four years, against a backdrop of budgets cuts of 40 percent over the last four. According to recent research compiled by the Museums Association, 42 galleries, museums, and heritage sites have closed in Britain over the last decade, most in the last two years.