A culling of students

posted by Bridget on 12 December 2013

I have for some time thought that there are too many BA photography courses in the UK, but the rise in tuition fees suggests the recent reduction in student numbers has more to do with the cost than a student's suitability to study.

It would be shame if UK photography courses were reduced simply because of the increased cost of attending university and the consequential drop in student numbers. But there is evidence suggesting that a fine arts degree is becoming a privilege of the monied few and the overseas student.

A survey compiled last year by the Higher Education Academy, concluded that higher fees are having an impact on the choice of institution and degree course, and on a potential student's geographical mobility. Which, the survey suggests, "tends to disadvantage those from lower income backgrounds who often choose lower status institutions close to home as a way of reducing the cost of study."

In a feature in last Saturday's FT, Rachel Spence wrote about three new initiatives that were seeking to replace the publically provided universal education with charitable foundations designed to support talented students who could not afford to attend art school.

Spence quotes Chris Olifi as saying he would not have been able to attend art school today because of the high costs of tuition and living expenses, particularly in London. Olifi who teaches has noticed [as have others] that his students are increasingly coming from wealthy backgrounds.

As someone who goes into colleges to talk to students on a regular basis I have noticed not just the issue of a monied background, but the increase of overseas students who are often funded by their national governments [Denmark is an example].

There is of course nothing wrong with students from a wealthy background or from abroad studying art, indeed it adds to the rich mix of work being produced today. But it will matter for the future richness of the British cultural scene if our art schools are forced to exclude talent, because the talent cannot afford to pay the fees.

The UK is still riding on the high of Cool Britannia and is still recognised as a place which produces interesting and creative ideas across most cultural platforms. But this is a result of providing education to all, regardless of class, race or ability to pay. We need to level the playing field again and ruthlessly make talent the key criteria for entrance to creative study.

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