These are tough times for university music schools. The 2011 Lomax-Smith review of higher education funding confirmed what we have long known: that government funding does not meet the costs of teaching music, let alone the purchase of instruments or the soundproofing of rooms. Experiences offered to students at the Manhattan School of Music or the Julliard School in New York seem an unobtainable dream. Support just to keep core activities going has to be found from other sources, and that support gets harder and harder to find as the gap between costs and income increases.
This has set many music schools across the country into a seemingly endless cycle of reviews that shakes the confidence of staff and students alike. Shaping the future of music in Australia becomes a tall order when self-doubt gains hold. That effect is magnified in cities like Canberra where the connections between music education and music in the community run deep and one cannot exist without the other.
Yet, in tough times, creativity also takes flight, and creativity bestows insight. Music born of acute circumstances has the power to provoke thought as well as comfort and inspire, and to do so long after the moment of composition. Music education is no different, and we are witness to a moment of creativity and insight right now. The ANU School of Music has educated musicians whose performances across the globe have made us all proud. But the school of music has also educated many more musicians whose contributions to music education, to concerts and music recording, to mental health projects as well as critical work with young disadvantaged Australians, should make us equally proud.
These two groups of students share the need to experience and to make music beyond the university.
Moreover, they share the potential to drive their own development of the technical, intellectual and social capabilities needed to create, perform, appreciate, and to research music.
Parents know only too well how hard it is to encourage children to practise when they don't want to. Music thrives with drive, but fully formed drive is a rare gift.
Staff at the school of music have been working for the past three years to strengthen the emphasis on student autonomy and community connections in curriculum. Under the changes proposed in recent days students will get credit for contributions to musical activities in Canberra and beyond. ANU will build on the already significant technological advances that connect students with master classes, other students and innovations at world-class music schools, here and overseas.
Opportunities for students to demonstrate leadership towards one another in classes will be amplified. Will the suggested changes in music mean fewer jobs for staff? Yes. Will they mean changes in the way that one-to-one musical education is offered? Yes. But they will also put students in the driving seat of their own development and acknowledge a wider range of pathways to a life with music.
An emphasis on student-driven, higher-order skill development is expected of universities under new federal regulatory arrangements. On this measure, ANU sees itself in the company of the world's best. The world's top universities are the progenitors of innovation and creativity, not the consumers of them. We are not consumer industries that mass-produce standard outputs, but communities that sustain individuals. World-class music education is the result when nurturing student drive sits at the heart of the curriculum.
Under these changes ANU will be the master of its own destiny. We want to shape the future of music in Australia and internationally, not just be subject to changes imposed by circumstances. That not only means setting out what you want to teach and how, but recognising that the best gift you can give students is the chance for them to shape the future too.
Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington is deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at the ANU.