As a BA student, I am used to people poking fun at the pitiful amount of hours each week that I am scheduled to be in lectures or seminars. In comparison to many students taking STEM subjects (otherwise known as subjects relating to science, technology, engineering or maths), I seem to have an insane amount of free time. This has always troubled me with regard to the spiralling costs of tuition fees; now, none other than Nigel Farage, the pint-swigging, ‘don’t-call-me-a-racist’ leader of UKIP, has catapulted the issue into the electoral debate.
This week one of their policies regarding university tuition fees has come under speculation, with many condemning UKIP for its blatant attack on the arts. The policy, stated on their website under the bizarrely ironic title of ‘Prioritising Education and Skills’, is outlined as such: ‘Subject to academic performance UKIP will remove tuition fees for students taking approved degrees in science, medicine, technology, engineering and maths on the condition that they live, work and pay tax in the UK for five years after the completion of their degrees.’
On the surface this may not seem so drastic, but underneath lies one of the most revealing truths about the right-wing movement in Britain; that despite all its tough talk about curbing immigration and ‘controlling’ borders, UKIP knows that a large portion of the medical, scientific and technological workforce comes from both international and immigrant communities. However, rather than acknowledging these hardworking and outstanding members of British society, Farage is instead, with this policy, seeking to replace them by luring people into STEM degrees by scrapping their tuition fees, knowing that this cost is a concern that already greatly affects many students’ decisions to go to university.
Now, let me get things straight before I continue – this is by no means an attack on STEM subjects or BSc degrees. Many people are destined to go into these fields and should happily do so. Higher education, as we all know here at Her Campus, is incredibly valuable and we should all be grateful that it is so widely available. What’s not okay, however, is that by wanting to remove tuition fees for STEM subjects – thus making them more lucrative – Farage is boldly stating that he does not see the arts as a worthwhile investment. This is important. It may seem irrelevant now, given that UKIP are still a small party with only two MPs in parliament, but after May 7th Farage’s voice might be a whole lot louder.
That’s because while the party is controversial, it is also gaining popularity as a result of increasing disillusionment with mainstream parties. Many Britons no longer feel that their views are represented by the three main party leaders, which is why smaller parties such as UKIP, the Green Party and the Scottish National Party have all recently experienced rising levels of popular support. As a result, many predict that this year is set to see a very different kind of election; great for mobilising Britons into realising that politics matters, but perhaps not so great in that it risks handing influence to parties that have much more radical and polarised outlooks. In layman’s terms, the more seats UKIP gains in parliament, the more influence they will have over whichever party or coalition ends up in charge. Judging from Farage’s education policies, this would only end up damaging the arts.
Such a change would therefore be a catastrophic mistake, because the bottom line is that the arts matter. English, Philosophy, History, Languages and Politics itself, to name a few, were some of the first subjects to be studied at a higher level by those who could afford it. Now, through the loan system, many more people have the opportunity to broaden their knowledge and study an incredibly varied range of ideas. This can only be a positive thing, and while it is non-negotiable that science, technology, engineering and maths are all essential to the very fabric of society, it cannot be denied that the arts too represent an integral piece of Britain’s puzzle.
Without the arts we do not question, criticise or challenge the events and changes that go on around us. Until we study another culture, a historical society, an ideological concept or a piece of art itself, we cannot see outside of the small world in which we currently live. However, for Farage and his nationalistic party, these limitations could be a benefit. Perhaps it is not an accident that this divisive politician would prefer to see the disappearance of degrees that have created the many politicians, journalists, teachers, novelists, artists, designers and other influential people who have always made their criticism of UKIP very apparent.
With this in mind, it is important that as writers, bloggers and photographers we all recognise the significance of the arts in continuing to give us a channel through which to express – and also examine – our views. Thankfully Farage is not in charge of the country, meaning his discriminatory policy remains unimplemented, but its very existence has certainly made me think twice about the disparaging comments often made towards BA students. After all, how can an engineer work without a designer and an artist? How can we develop technology without people to dream up the ideas and reflect on past errors? How can we maintain economies without considering politics? And how can we move forward in scientific endeavours without people to educate and inform future generations?
All subjects are important and equal, and it’s high time that we stopped bringing each other down and started to fight back against this assault on the arts. As a collective body we, as the student population, have a very loud voice, and we need to use it to let UKIP know that prioritising some paths over others is not acceptable. If that means that we need to shout louder than brash, bolshy Farage this May, then so be it.