Skip to main content

Public Funding: Museums and Galleries

Volume 716: debated on Tuesday 5 January 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they expect dedicated public funding to continue to be provided for university museums and galleries.

My Lords, the Government fully recognise the importance of university museums and galleries and the immense value of the collections that they hold on behalf of the nation. These are used extensively in teaching and research, as well as being open to the general public. The Government’s policy is to continue to invest in higher education museums and galleries through special funding, which is administered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England—HEFCE. The fund currently invests £10 million a year. This funding is currently under review to ensure that judgments on special funding are based on clear principles, making the allocation of this special funding as consistent and transparent as possible.

Will my noble friend put it to the Higher Education Funding Council that if the excellence of the university museums and galleries is to be preserved, dedicated funding will remain essential? Does he acknowledge that university museums and galleries—which include, of course, the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam, the Courtauld, the Whitworth and the Sainsbury—hold no less than 30 per cent of all the nationally dedicated collections? That is an index of their importance not only to research and the creative economy but to the cultural life of us all. If, however, the existing £10 million of ring-fenced funding is to go into the general maw of a reduced block grant to the universities, what accounting procedures or other means will the Government require to be used to ensure that public funding in support of the university museums and galleries, which we ought to treasure as great national assets, is not diminished and remains clearly visible?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments. We are currently undertaking a review of HEFCE funding for university museums and galleries. Sir Muir Russell is leading the review, which is considering both the museums and galleries that currently receive funding and those that do not. I have already expressed the view that we understand and recognise the importance of these collections, which my noble friend has indicated, because they are open to the public and because of their value in research and teaching. We fully endorse his view about the importance of these collections and we have made those views clear. I am afraid that we will have to await the outcome of the review and the recommendations of Sir Muir Russell. We should not anticipate that they will necessarily be negative.

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the Higher Education Funding Council for England is drawing on sufficiently wide criteria in its assessment? I have the impression that the criteria enunciated relate mainly to higher education and perhaps to other aspects of education narrowly defined. Is the Minister satisfied that the interests of the broad British public and of tourists will be sufficiently allowed for in this review?

My Lords, I feel confident that Sir Muir Russell will take into account the fact that these are not merely a part of higher education research but are also, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, a valuable resource to the public generally and a tourist attraction as well.

My Lords, given the importance of these museum collections, which the Minister has already set out, could he perhaps comment on the concern expressed by the museums that in the course of the review to date, it appears that none of the museums or galleries has been visited?

I could not possibly comment on that. I can only accept the noble Baroness’s point as accurate. However, I am confident that Sir Muir Russell, who is leading the review, understands fully the importance of these institutions not only to the universities themselves but also to the public at large, and is aware of their wide range. We have mentioned only a few today, but there are a very significant number.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the uncertainty about the criteria is causing great difficulty for the university museums? Is there a risk that the interests of the museums may slip between HEFCE and the department for education on the one hand and DCMS on the other? Will he make sure that the Government get their act together to ensure that the great university museums’ interests are not damaged?

The review is due in 2010. I assure the noble Lord that we will make sure that their interests are not damaged. I understand the concern about what they would see as a period of uncertainty, but our commitment to museums and galleries generally is shown by the fact that we have allocated £191.4 million for national museums and galleries over the next three years. With regard to the importance of these institutions, our commitment has been validated over the years.

My Lords, I declare an interest as I am on the board of the Ashmolean Museum. I draw the Minister’s attention to the considerable contrast between the public funding of important national museums calculated on the basis of grant per visitor, compared with the grant per visitor to the Ashmolean Museum. Is it his belief that national museum grants range from £9.30 per visitor for the British Museum to £13.80 per visitor for the Natural History Museum, whereas funding for the Ashmolean—and, no doubt, for other university museums—is approximately £4.60 per visitor, and may become significantly less given the huge increase in the number of visitors since the Ashmolean’s reopening?

First, we should congratulate the Ashmolean Museum on its recent refit and refurbishment, which a significant amount of government money went into, as was right and appropriate. The cost per visitor is the result of a historical approach. Our concern should not be to decide which of these institutions is more important; the Ashmolean, the Petrie collection and a range of others, together with institutions such as the Natural History Museum, all have a valuable role to play. We believe that our funding overall has accomplished a significant and valuable task in helping these museums to survive, and we have indicated our intention that we want this to continue.