Creative degrees are once again being suppressed. Are the creative arts as valuable as STEM?

Joe Millward delves into the endless debate of the creative arts VS STEM subjects

Joe Millward
2nd November 2021
The government has approved a 50% cut to the subsidies for thirteen arts, entertainment, and journalism courses. This 113 pounds may seem negligible - a fraction of the course’s total. However, it makes the provocative proposition: Ministers value the arts half as much as STEM subjects.

Before we dive into epistemic questions of art’s value, an argument can be made that STEM courses are more costly - universities have made losses up to £2094 per student on specific STEM courses. Luckily however, the education secretary’s thoughts are thus: “STEM courses are vital to the UK’s economy and post-Covid recovery, which is why we increased the teaching grant by up to £10m for these subjects this year to allow universities to admit more students”.

Yeah, that wad (I mean the cash) will definitely plug deficits, especially if they can afford to push for even more admissions. This means the arts are specifically targeted. To be clear, the danger isn't the cut. The danger is the discrepancy. As once a gap forms, it will only ever widen - less funding means less output, begetting less funding. 

So why is the government cutting art funding? Clearly STEM is being set up as the next golden goose for a glorious economy, but a second reason lies in yet another ministerial move. There has been a proposal to lower the student loan repayment threshold down to £23000, so that lower paying jobs can contribute to the ever-mounting student debt crisis. This will mean degrees with fewer employability prospects are less likely to be a total loss for the scheme. By dissuading studies in non-STEM subjects (with supposedly less reliable job prospects) into STEM the threshold can remain.

Is it wrong to push STEM over the arts?

Sacrificing art degrees on the altar of STEM will lead to less students, less art and less expression. It is inarguable that anyone would want to live in this grey artless dystopia, but supporters would suggest ‘true’ creatives would find a way - our own Rowan Atkinson was a STEM, electrical engineer, who went on to write. However, it was only at university where he met Richard Curtis, as it is at these hotbeds of talent and inspiration artists can find the breathing room to flourish. It is never as simple as picking up a pen, university can be critical to progression.

Students should not be pushed into a degree or job more likely to repay their loan

To flip the problem on its head, it was so easily suggested that ballerinas could begin retraining into ‘cyber’. If this retraining were possible, maybe there is a bridge to ensure everyone could achieve positions to repay their loan. Or maybe it was just a really bad advertising campaign. (Quick time-out for a computer science student grumble - STEM roles are not so enterable, it is an all too common joke ‘entry level’ positions could require 5 years of experience)

The issue with the retrain campaign was that people do what they want, so why push them into STEM. It is exactly the same issue here - students should not be pushed into a degree or job more likely to repay their loan. We should study what we enjoy, uninhibited by the odds of repaying our loans or fixing a post-Brexit economy. It is only by the loan system that certain degrees are being pushed above others, as a ‘good’ degree is one that repays the loan. 

So I can't argue whether stem is more valuable than the arts, I can only say they should not be compared at all; while it’s idealistic that people should study only what they enjoy, as some take degrees strictly for higher wage jobs - that should be their decision, uninfluenced by ministers pushing certain subjects. As for STEM vs Arts, just remember when Boris’s disregard for recycling turns the world into WALL-E-esque mounds of junk, it was a team of artists, animators, writers, who gave us our first look at it.

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