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University workers and students organise against multimillion pound arts cuts

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Issue 2756
UCU union members are fighting to defend education for all
UCU union members are fighting to defend education for all (Pic: Guy Smallman)

University workers and students are organising against Tory plans to slash funding for arts subjects by 50 percent.

Tory education secretary Gavin Williamson wants to cut their budgets from £36 million to £19 million in the 2021-22 academic year.

Staff, students, artists and musicians attended an online rally on Wednesday organised by UCU union members at the Royal College of Art in London. UCU general secretary Jo Grady told the rally that proposed cuts are “an attack from the government, but it also an attack by vice chancellors and education managers”.

“It is clear that this government is uncomfortable with dissent and we have to see the attack on the arts as an attack on free speech,” she said.

“They want to stifle debate by defunding. They want to dial back the clock, but we won’t let them.”

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Syahadah is part of the Pause or Pay student campaign, a group set up by arts students in “response to the disruption of studio-based learning by the pandemic”. She told the rally, “These cuts are a way of excluding working class students. 

“We need to make it clear the arts shouldn’t just be accessible to higher class students.

“We won’t be fooled by attempts to divide students and our lecturers. Art is a tool of resistance and we’re going to fight back.” 

Charlotte, a university worker in the social sciences at London South Bank University, said the cuts to arts and humanities subjects have already started. “We’ve lost refugees studies and courses in sustainability,” she said. “We are now going through a whole re-profiling of the university.

“Every course is being measured up to a criteria of employability.

“The university itself has said it’s committed to decolonising. But how can a university decolonise when they get rid of black history studies and there are no opportunities to learn about the British Empire or immigration?” 


Emma from Kingston university pointed out similar issues. “At Kingston they are getting rid of a number of humanities subject as well as film and media studies,” she said.

“There is a narrowing of subjects that are available to working class students. We have to make it clear the arts and humanities shouldn’t only be available who can or want to go to Russell Group universities.

“They must be available to all.”

And Peta from Liverpool university, where workers are set to start a series of strikes on Monday, told the rally that once the cuts start bosses keep on making them. “Everyone needs to stand together as a union,” she said.

“The government is coming for us, we need to fight the cuts as a whole union not just as individual branches.” 

Peta called for those at the rally to attend a fringe meeting to support ongoing disputes, organised by the UCU Solidarity Movement, at the union’s congress on 27 May.

Courses in the arts and humanities that aren’t considered profitable by the Tories are now on the chopping board. It’s part of the increased marketisation of universities that puts profit before students and staff. 

To sign up to the UCU Solidarity Movement meeting To support the dispute at Liverpool university, message [email protected] and donate to the strike fund here

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