England and Wales offer a large number of university degrees related to arts, culture and heritage. These courses cover a broad spectrum which ranges from music, fine arts and creative writing to management-based degrees in the administration of culture. The degree levels range from first degree courses up to research-based PhD degrees. Not only do arts and arts-related degrees have a long history in the England and Wales, but some institutions are also world-renowned in their respective fields.
According to the Higher Education Student Statistics 2016/17, in that academic year (the latest for which data are available), 175,700 students were enrolled in arts and creative design courses in the UK, which is 7.5% of the total student population. These numbers constitute a 3% increase from the previous academic year. While this increase might seem to contradict fears that students would be less inclined to study arts subjects at degree level due to the decline of arts education in primary and secondary schools (see chapter 5.2), the full impact of the reduction in taught arts subjects in schools is yet to be felt. A majority of students in these courses are female.
In the past decade, arts courses in England have encountered a series of important obstacles, the most important of which was certainly the removal of direct government funding for arts and humanities courses from the academic year 2012/13, which forced higher education establishments to charge much higher fees in order to keep courses financially viable. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that there is a lack of incentives for universities to offer arts subjects. Arts degrees often lead to careers with low graduate salaries, which harms universities’ performance in the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework. However, the so-called Russell Group of Universities (24 research-led universities) has now changed its ‘A’ level subject advice for prospective students because it was considered that its “informed choices” list had the unintended consequence of devaluing those subjects excluded such as creative and arts’ ones.
Similarly, cuts to discretionary funding by local authorities has affected some vocational courses, but some continue to be funded by central government such as the Dance and Drama Awards, which support talented students to study at institutions such as the Royal Ballet School.
The Arts Award, the first scheme to recognise the development of young artists, craftspeople and young arts and heritage leaders aged between 11 and 25, was launched in 2005. It is a qualification offered at Levels 1, 2 and 3 (Bronze, Silver and Gold) in the National Qualifications Framework. The scheme encourages young people to develop in their chosen artform or craft, to review the work of others, to make use of arts resources in their communities, to experience arts events, to share their skills and to run arts projects with others. It also enables them to explore future options in the arts including training courses and jobs. There are no entry requirements. The Award is administered by Trinity College London with the support of Arts Council England.
Although England and Wales have participated in the Bologna Process / European Higher Education Area since 1999, in comparison with other countries the extent of reform has been relatively small, due to the fact that the higher education system already had a three-tier (Bachelor-Master-PhD) system in place. In 2005 a diploma supplement was introduced. This is a document issued to students by their higher education institutions on graduation, describing the qualification they have received in a format that is easy to understand and compare, thus fostering mobility for employment in Europe. However, universities in the UK do not tend to promote themselves as Bologna-compatible, perhaps because leading universities already attract large numbers of international students. At this stage it is not known how Brexit will affect higher education establishments’ collaboration, but there are concerns that UK universities’ participation in such schemes for students’ mobility and exchanges will be seriously curtailed. More than 16,500 UK students participated in such programmes in 2016/17. After leaving the EU, the UK might pay to continue in ERASMUS and similar programmes or might endeavour to establish exchange programmes with individual countries.