Fine Arts and Arts Education Resources at Saskatchewan Universities

A cup filled with dry paint brushes

This report documents changes in fine arts and arts education resources in the province’s universities from approximately 2001 to 2021. It updates and complements the SAA’s similar reports of 2014, 2015 and 2018.

This report is part of a series, each updating and building on the last. All reports in the series are available here:

Access the 2022 report, Fine Arts and Arts Education Resources at Saskatchewan Universities

Access the 2018 report, Fine Arts and Arts Education Resources at Saskatchewan Universities 2018 Update.

Access the 2015 report, Fine Arts and Arts Education Resources at Saskatchewan Universities: An Analysis of Trends 2015.

Access the 2014 report, Fine Arts Resources at Saskatchewan Universities: An Analysis of Trends 1995-2013.

2021 Update Overview:

For the most part, fine arts education at Saskatchewan universities has remained fairly consistent in terms of faculty sizes and funding, and has not seen much impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. The main take away from this report is the fact that the number of degrees awarded in fine arts disciplines is significantly on the decline; while obviously a cause for concern, this is not an isolated trend, but rather one that has been noticed worldwide, as Arts & Humanities programs are facing a steep drop in enrolment at universities across the globe. At the same time, enrolment in fine arts classes have increased, which would indicate that interest in the fine arts is still there, students are still engaging with the fine arts academically, but are choosing different programs for their focus.

Having only just left academia, it seemed fitting that my first research project for the SAA was the examination of fine arts resources at Saskatchewan universities; an easier transition from the world of academic research into non-profit research.

Much of the data provided by Saskatchewan universities reflected realities that were achingly familiar: the decline in undergraduate enrolment that has sparked endless discussions about student retention and the future of the arts & humanities in universities; graduate enrolment in the arts remaining steady despite the incredibly bleak job market; the stagnating budgets that called to mind an email I received in September 2021, sent to all teaching staff, informing us that due to budget cuts, office supplies would no longer be provided. If we wanted to print material for our students, it had to come out of our own pockets.

The aforementioned email had not come as much of a surprise, as anyone in the arts & humanities at the tertiary level is weary of the constant refrain that there is no money, that there are no funds to be had for us, that the coffers are bare. But it had certainly inspired a certain amount of ire: it is hard not to wonder how universities spend their money, considering that, in 2021 my former institution reported receiving €55.2 million in donations on top of money generated through tuition and tax-payer dollars.

Indeed, when considering that Canadian universities reported a surplus of $7.3 billion nationwide, with Saskatchewan universities having $221 million in surplus alone at the end of the 2021 fiscal year, it’s difficult to understand why this money does not appear to have been redirected into academics; based on the data provided by the universities themselves, there does not appear to have been much, if any, significant increase in the budget of any department, not just the fine arts.

The argument could perhaps be made that fiscal investment wasn’t seen to be wise, owing to the declining enrolment in fine arts programs and the decreased issuance of fine arts degrees, but Saskatchewan universities reported an increase in credit hours taken in the fine arts, indicating that the interest and the desire to engage with the arts persists, despite it not being students’ majors of choice. While the provided data doesn’t question why, the answer seems somewhat obvious: with talks of a looming recession for the past couple years, the increased cost of living coupled with the crushing reality of student debt, it is completely understandable why students would lean towards degrees that are perceived as being more employable, more likely to provide them with a stable future. It is no secret that arts degrees have long been viewed as being an unwise decision from a career perspective – indeed, MacLean’s ran an article not too long ago entitled ‘Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree,’ riffing on this idea that arts graduates are perpetually unemployed.

It is hard not to have conflicting emotions about this data: on the one hand, it is heartening that the arts appear to have sustained interest, and that young people are still invested in them enough to enrol in fine arts classes outside of their majors. At the same time, when universities are increasingly being run like businesses, it is difficult not to worry that decreased degree enrolment will lead to erosion of existing programs, with smaller numbers being used as a justification for decreased resources.

Indeed, Saskatchewan universities already report a decrease in employment numbers in fine arts programs. This, too, is not an isolated trend, as the number of academic jobs has been consistently on the decline across all disciplines worldwide; a department I am familiar with has only been allowed to make one permanent hire in the last 25 years, and this person was intended to replace three full-time permanent staff members who had retired.

But it is not necessarily all doom-and-gloom: while universities worldwide have filled the employment gaps by an increasing reliance on contract (also known as sessional or adjunct) lecturers as opposed to offering permanent positions, the University of Saskatchewan at least appears to have bucked this trend, reporting a decreased reliance on sessional lecturers.

Overall, fine arts programs at Saskatchewan universities are following global trends, and despite enrolment and employment being on the decline, have remained relatively consistent since the previous report. Although it is frustrating to see resources and enrolment on the decline, it is somewhat comforting to know that this is a reflection of academia as a whole, and not something specific to fine arts programming at Saskatchewan universities. If anything, it is good to see that there has been an increase in interest in fine arts classes and that students are continue to engage with and participate in the arts, regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in an arts program, as we know that the arts benefits everyone and everyone benefits from the arts.