An email I received from @ArtsEmergency’s Neil Griffiths

Below is a very important and eye opening email I received from Neil Griffiths at Arts Emergency. The Arts Emergency Service works to keep subjects in the Arts and Humanities in the UK accessible to everyone who wants to study them regardless of the barriers and perceived barriers: “We believe an arts degree is NOT a luxury and the decision to study for any degree should be based on talent and passion rather than a financial trade-off between debt and future earnings.”


Dear Arts Defenders,

Last night Wendy Piatt, head of the Russel Group, effectively called for a near doubling of tuition fees from £9,000 to £16,000 a term.

At the same time the Student Loans book is set to be sold to private interests – a move that may ultimately lead to even higher fees and tax payer subsidy in order to make this a suitably profitable venture.

The twin issues of debt and marketisation act as a lightning rod for those of us concerned about access to education, and indeed the nature of that education. I just wanted to share with you  a short piece I put together about inequality.

I publish this with the caveat that all of these issues are so deep and complicated that anything we do will never be the whole answer – and I think it will take all sorts of different approaches and voices (including those of us with and without the full set of privileges!) to get anywhere near putting things right. The fact that you and I want to do something about it is, in itself, reason for great hope.

To begin, we’ll look at just one area in which Arts Emergency is active: the media. Here, over54% of all leading news journalists were privately educated, while a 2012 Guardian guide to the ‘100 most important people in the media’ included only three non-white people. This encapsulates concisely the kind of issues we are working against as a charity. Even among politicians, the supposed representatives of the people we find that 35% of all MPs attended fee-paying schools, with the majority of cabinet ministers and many of the shadow cabinet included in that number.

In fact, just five elite schools sent more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge over three years than nearly 2,000 other schools combined, which equates to two-thirds of the entire state sector allocation. This is pretty amazing, and it will come as no surprise to hear that just a handful of the country’s most prestigious schools produce one in ten of our leaders right across culture, politics and business. Let’s make it simple and quote the Oxford English Dictionary to be clear on what we’re talking about here:

Definition of “old boys’ network” in English


‘an informal system through which men are thought to use their positions of influence to help others who went to the same school or university as they did, or who share a similar social background: many managers were chosen by the old boy network.


Slightly further down this social ‘pecking order’, statistics show that white, better-off, middle-class families still exert a stranglehold over places at all of our top universities and ,as such, public discourse and many of our professions still suffer from a lack of diversity. Indeed, many young people from non-establishment backgrounds feel they have no stake in society at all. This sense of social anomie was pointed to as a major contributing cause of the 2011 riots, according to a study set up by the government.

This and much, much more, adds up to make a society where the education system and the economy works well for the few, but creates challenges for the many. It is obvious and, we’d like to make clear, not intrinsically wrong, that wealthier families are in a position to give greater advantages to their children. From birth to university and beyond, it is perfectly natural to want the best for our children no matter your economic or social circumstances, but …

… we want the best for EVERYONE

The Arts Emergency Service was founded in London, where the top 10% of the city’s population earns 273 times more than the bottom 10%. That’s a pretty grotesque disparity, but we refuse to dwell on the negatives; we much prefer positive action!

Our fast growing network of like-minded artists, professionals, academics and activists work together to give disadvantaged young people the social and cultural capital that will help them overcome the many challenges they face and counter the myth that university, and in particular arts degrees, are only for the privileged.

It’s not all about money – having encouragement, the benefit of somebody else’s experience, contacts and confidence can do just as much to level the playing field as all the millions of pounds successive govenrments and NGOs have ploughed into ‘social mobility’ programmes (if not more!). We welcome their willingness to make some concessions to the “99%”, but social justice is our aim and creating privilege for people who have none is how we will go about making this happen. This is an act of solidarity not charity, celebrating the arts and diversity, not lamenting the moribund status quo. Ultimately it is about all of us coming together and making the world a better, more open and fairer place in some small way.

Empowering young people to take chances, to create, to question, to influence – benefits not just them, but enriches our wider cultural life through their unique future contributions. Do join us in this endeavour – whatever your politics or background.

Written, borrowed, parroted and inspired by/from all these things:

The Sutton Trust have lots of reports and useful statistic, many used above, about inequality and access to Higher Education

This joint report by The Equality Trust, My Fair London and The Centre for Labour and Social Studies has lots of background on wealth inequality

Media Diversity UK is a small but wonderful group tackling the lack of diversity in UK Media

Ipsos MORI published a thorough study of Children’s wellbeing in the UK and beyond

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has a wealth of research on issues around poverty, inequality and social justice

Kettled Youth by Dan Hancox

Generation Vexed by Kieran Yates & Nikesh Shukla


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