As a comedian Josie Long might seem an unlikely saviour of arts degree courses in the UK,which are threatened with the axe all over the country. But that’s what she is setting out to do.
Long, who grew up on the outskirts of London in a family that was far from wealthy, says that winning a place at Oxford to read English gave her the confidence to become a stand-up comedian. “University changed my life. It helped me build my own life and gave me an escape route into a completely different life – a better life – than I would otherwise have had,” Long told me in an interview for The Sunday Times last week.
At 17 she won the BBC best new comedy award. Since then Long, a presenter on BBC6 Music, has toured all over the country and will be taking her show to Edinburgh this summer.
Many students who start this autumn facing tuition fees of up to £9000 are too frightened of debt to follow in her footsteps, Long believes. Applications for arts degrees have dropped this year and as a result many universities are closing degree courses ranging from music to history.
Long’s response has been to launch the arts emergency service, comprising a lottery – arts graduates can buy tickets costing £2,the winner gets £16,000 to pay off their student debt – a mentoring network and a lobbying organisation to try to save arts degrees from closure.
Together with co-founder Neil Griffiths, she’s enlisting other well-known figures including Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker, the author Neil Gaiman and the commedian Shappi Khorandi to help her.
For Long, not being able to study the subject you are passionate about is no laughing matter.
“I was on a panel recently with someone who started sneering about the notion that a cleaner might want to take a history of art degree and I couldn’t think of anything funny to say in response,” she says.