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Things are not getting any easier for the arts and humanities in Higher Education. Each week brings new accusations from politicians, think tanks and a hostile media that our courses are ‘low value’, ‘Mickey mouse’, insufferably woke, and failing our students. Accompanied by the continued banging of the STEM drum, such claims – however spurious – are having real world impacts.

Important counter-narratives do exist, like the British Academy’s SHAPE campaign, and the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre’s research on the value of arts and culture. [Editor: And look out for a new HEPI paper on the topic later this month.] Nevertheless, A-Level entries in these subjects are declining and recurrent government support for university courses has been halved. As the university funding model comes under increasing strain, it is the arts and humanities that are bearing the brunt of restructuring. Once-thriving departments have been decimated, reducing opportunities for study.

What does this mean for those of us who are university executive leaders of arts and humanities? At the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE) Entrepreneurial Leaders programme, I chose to represent my task, as Head of College of Arts in a post-92 university, by the image of an oil tanker changing course. In time, however, I realised that my situation is rather more complicated. I am not only trying to navigate the tanker (my College) towards calmer waters by redirecting its structures and processes and unleashing the creativity of its people; I am also attempting to move the sea around the tanker by making the internal and external environment more appreciative and supportive of our work. 

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