Uni-Verse: Time to face the music

Georgia Behrens reports on dissonant reforms at the ANU School of Music

Against a backdrop of student disillusionment, staff resentment and administrative confusion, first-year enrolments at the competitive ANU School of Music have dropped from almost 100 to 40 this year. The announcement of drastic budget cuts and a major restructure in May 2012 has tarnished the School’s reputation, with student numbers in other years also falling by about 20%.

The $1.5 million cutback is one of a raft of reforms implemented to restore the University’s budget surplus to what Vice-Chancellor Ian Young described as an “operable” $35 million per annum. The School of Music, which has been losing almost $2.7 million every year, has undergone a major curriculum overhaul and suffered 13 staff redundancies.

Starting this year, the School will transition from a conservatorium model — with primary emphasis on practical performance tuition — to a “university-style” program, where students will receive instruction in vocational subjects such as musicology, music teaching, journalism and administration. ANU Head of Musicology Jonathan Powell said that the vast majority of music graduates do not become performers, and must therefore cultivate a broad range of relevant skills.

“[A music student] needs to understand the shifting nature of the music business [which requires them] to … play the role of performer, educator, entrepreneur, and producer, and take advantage of music-making opportunities far beyond the concert hall,” he told The Canberra Times.

But a School of Music student, who asked to remain anonymous, has identified widespread concern among ANU students that they will graduate as “a jack of all trades, but master of none.” She said that a vocational degree is not what she and her peers signed up for and that they feel “very betrayed.”

With music programs consistently receiving the lowest amount of Commonwealth financial support across the tertiary sector, all seven of the nation’s conservatoriums are currently operating with major budget deficits. And, with each Australian music student estimated to lose their university between $2,000-5,000 each year, cuts at ANU might only be the tip of a very large iceberg.

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