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University of Sydney scraps plans to close SCA after student backlash

Tom Joyner and Gillian Kayrooz report on the latest development surrounding the proposed closure of the Sydney College of the Arts

Tom Joyner and Gillian Kayrooz report on the latest development surrounding the proposed closure of the Sydney College of the Arts

The University of Sydney has announced it is scrapping plans to close the Sydney College of the Arts following weeks of sustained protest from students and staff.

In an email sent to students on Thursday, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence confirmed he had informed his UNSW counterpart of the intention to cancel a heads of agreement. The agreement between the two institutions was announced in June, with the intention of creating a joint ‘centre for excellence’ that would have seen the SCA close entirely.

“It has always been our position that we ought not to proceed with the proposed merger unless we were clear that the vision for a centre of excellence was achievable, and would benefit both the University and visual arts teaching and research,” the email read.

The announcement comes after sustained protest from students, staff and alumni, who claimed that the move was disingenuous, had been made without proper consultation, and was motivated primarily by the University’s concerns about its own profitability.

The University initially signalled the closure in an email sent to students on June 21, immediately sparking a groundswell of anger among students and staff. A campaign to fight the closure saw hundreds of students rally outside a University senate meeting earlier this month in protest, and stage a demonstration at the opening of the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW.

“We have an initial victory but we definitely won’t be winding down the campaign. It’s shown that a united campaign has put pressure on the University to recognise the faults in the closure,” said SRC Education Officer Dylan Griffiths, who helped organise the ‘Let SCA Stay’ campaign.

On Thursday afternoon, students and staff at SCA stopped class to hold an impromptu meeting in the school’s auditorium to voice concerns about the future of the school’s flagship degree program, the Bachelor of Visual Arts, which is set to be ‘redesigned’ in 2018. Concerns were also raised about staff jobs.

A member of teaching staff, who did not wish to be identified, said while the announcement was good news, the campaign was far from over.

“There was a certain feeling of vindication that what everyone’s been fighting for has been acknowledged, but there’s still a significant fight to maintain facilities and conditions,” the staff member said. “What had previously been said was a lot of jobs were not guaranteed so we read between the lines.”

According to the Vice-Chancellor’s Thursday email, the SCA will be absorbed by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and moved to the University’s inner-city Camperdown campus. The future the school’s studio space and facilities remain uncertain.

“There’s no indication that they’ll be keeping the staff for keeping the facilities or studio space,” said the staff member. “While this is an initial victory, there is still a major fight ahead of us.”

“I guess we live to fight another day,” said second-year print media student Lou Young. “It’s really great news in that we won’t be immediately be losing our studio space next year.”

Several decorated alumni have since also spoken out about SCA’s closure over the course of the campaign, including Academy Award nominee Jane Campion, Archibald Prize winner Ben Quilty, and Sydney Morning Herald cartoonist Cathy Wilcox, who all told Honi Soit about their formative experiences at the school.

“Without an institution like SCA that provides academic leadership in research and art education, Australian art will be greatly diminished,” said photomedia artist Anne Zahalka.

It remains unclear how many jobs remain at risk now plans for the closure have been scrapped. Details on the SCA’s move to the University’s Camperdown campus are also hazy. The University Provost, Stephen Garton, is due to address students on Friday morning at SCA from 9am.