Special thanks for contributions from: Daisy King, Ellie Beckett, Rachel Bissell, Romy Chessells, and Tom Stockley
In 2016, Falmouth graduate Tom Stockley set fire to his fine art degree certificate and mailed the ashes back to the university. His controversial actions were in protest of the university’s decision to shut down its foundation art course, a decision which Stockley regards as yet another step in the increasingly monetised nature of higher education.
As universities become more like businesses and art students find themselves neglected in favour of other courses, Stockley has a clear message to send to the universities of Britain:
“Creativity is not for sale and we are not your business.”
Almost half a decade later, the situation remains bleak. The coronavirus pandemic has catalysed a financial crisis for universities, and the government is considering dropping so-called “Mickey Mouse” degrees, such as art, to fund more traditionally academic subjects. Christie’s Education, a subsidiary of the world-renowned auction house Christie’s, has announced that they are terminating their master’s degree art programmes in London and New York from 2020 onwards.
Out of twenty-four Russell Group universities, only six currently offer an undergraduate art degree. The number of art courses is steadily diminishing and funding is drastically being cut. In spite of this, the number of art students enrolled is gradually growing. Since 2016, the number of art students per year has gone up from 175,595 to 181,830, an increase of 3.6%. This has made art courses more competitive for entry. Additionally, the lack of funding combined with higher numbers of students means that fewer resources will have to be shared amongst larger classes.
We asked three intermediate-year arts students whether their respective departments had suffered from a lack of funding:
2nd Year @ University of Reading
Studying BA Graphic Communication
“Whilst I enjoy the course itself and think that the projects are helping me develop my confidence as a designer, there is definitely a lack of funding for the department. As a result, we have to pay for our own printing and, as many of the practical projects are large colour posters and editorial book designs, the cost of printing really adds up.
The university also refuses to unlock an area of the department that would provide students with more studio space. It was open for a brief period last year when the library was being refurbished, but has since been locked. We have requested for it to be opened but the university has said no so as to save money on lighting and heating.”
2nd Year @ University of Warwick
Studying BA History of Art
“I took a practical art module last term and although Fine Art is not my actual degree (nor is a Fine Art degree available at Warwick), I did expect more than what was available to us – a small classroom with normal classroom desks, a small store room with paper and a few paints in and one printing press.
I can only recall two meetings with my ‘personal tutor’ in the last two years. Granted, I haven’t needed any more than this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he still doesn’t know my name. However, I cannot dismiss the mandatory term abroad in Venice that my course provided. This is unlike any other course I know of and it was an unforgettable experience.”
2nd Year @ Birmingham City University
Studying BA Interior Architecture and Design
“Our courses require extortionate amounts of materials and money, spent on things like high-spec laptops, to be able to cope with the sheer amount of rendering programs needed for the course. If you do not spend this £1,000 on a laptop, then your grades will suffer.
Not all the materials you want are funded by the uni, so you have to buy them yourself. In a sense, the richer you are, the more you can afford, and the better grades you can get. We get two full days a week and the course is classed as a full-time degree, but in reality the tutors leave us to work of our own accord.”Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in