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Hefce head denounces likely loss of arts teaching funding

The man in charge of allocating funding to England’s universities has said he would not be “comfortable” living and working in a country that did not provide teaching funding for arts and humanities courses.

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, told the organisation’s annual meeting in London on 26 November he has “huge sympathy” for arguments that such subjects should receive direct public investment.

However, he said the economic situation meant a decision has been made to cut teaching funds from all courses, and the net effect will be that such subjects would lose subsidies altogether.

Sir Alan said there is not only an issue about the “inherent value” of arts and humanities subjects but also “the importance of having universities with a broad range of disciplines”.

“If you ask me on a personal level, am I comfortable living and working in a country that doesn’t put some public funding into arts and humanities, the answer is no,” he said. He added that the question of public investment in higher education had to be revisited in the future.

“If we want to invest in our higher education system across the broad range of disciplines…we can’t simply do that by racking up fees,” he said.

Sir Alan also said during a keynote speech that there could be “collateral damage” to the UK’s international reputation for higher education from the current rows over funding.

And he warned the sector: “If we value our students simply for what we get out of them or what they might earn in the future, be assured that they will in turn estimate our value by what they can get out of us and I think that would be a betrayal of our higher education system in the UK.”

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

Readers' comments (2)

  • See this article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7011121.stm It's found that British students work fewer hours per week on academics than students in other European countries, and that the STEM subjects are more demanding than the humanities. One could chalk this up to brilliant efficiency in teaching in the UK in general and the humanities in particular, but I doubt this. Polycarpus' point about looking at the record of the US GRE examinations is rather bizarre. American universities have similar amounts of contact time in humanities and STEM subjects - slightly more in the STEM subjects because of labs, but nowhere near as big a gap as in the UK. Furthermore, the GRE is taken as part of the entrance process for graduate programs in the USA. In these programs, there tend to be many foreign science students with mediocre English skills, but relatively few humanities students. I find little information content about teaching quality in the finding that students with humanities degrees do better on the vocabulary and reading comprehension portion of a multiple choice test than students with science degrees, with all these factors considered. It's a "my father can beat up your younger brother" kind of argument. I'm sure there are things that the process of a standard British humanities degree teaches well, but I'm also pretty sure that it's *a lot* easier to get a 2.2 in a humanities subject than in a science subject.

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  • I am personally appalled that the Govt is, as Artes puts it, "ceasing to fund the core of the university". I guess, as many have already said, that arts programmes will survive in the high-end/richer/posher institutions (delete as you prefer). This is because: i) 1st/2i degrees from these institutions have a value in the graduate jobmart that is at least partly independent of the particular subject they are in; ii) As Mcdonagh pointed out, kids from well-connected upper middle and upper class families, who will likely make up many of the student body doing arts at such places, will typically do well through their "network", whatever precise subject they did at Univ. The real difficulty is obviously going to come at "sub-research intensive" HEIs, where students are more likely to come from less well heeled/connected B/Gs and the degree (whatever you think of this reality) arguably carries less "institution-derived value". Here there is a real threat of the arts being lost, and this is surely where "liberal arts" courses are likely the best option. The question might be how far up the HEI ladder this changeover is going to happen. Finally, to reiterate something I said before: speaking as a scientist, it is a commonplace among me and my scientific colleagues that the primary value of our degree is NOT entirely, or even particularly "vocational", i.e. in training more scientists. The value lies in training critical thinkers who ALSO happen to be scientists. But training critical thinkers is something that all academic disciplines hopefully do - indeed, I would see it as a key purpose of all HE. I am quite certain the arts and humanities pride themselves on instilling critical thinking, as well as producing lifelong learners, and all the other buzzwords. On the same lines, for an eloquent defence, from an eminent US-based scientist, of the value of arts and humanities, this is worth a read: http://genomebiology.com/2010/11/10/138

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