Date: May 15 2012
A lot has been said and written about the proposed changes to the ANU School of Music over the last weeks.
Much of the talk has revealed the passion our students have for their music, for their school and for their teachers, and that is a passion to be celebrated.
Passion has also been on display in the community about the future of our school, and the very important role it plays in Canberra's cultural life.
The over 100 letters and comments that have come to me as part of the consultation process are all written by people who care deeply about music, and the critical role it plays in a rich cultural life. There is no disagreement about that.
What I ask students and staff, and the ACT community to do at this time is to direct that passion towards assisting the university secure a sustainable educational and financial future for the School of Music. Many good suggestions and ideas have already come in and I welcome all contributions.
Many in the community will know that this is not the first time that the School of Music has faced serious challenges. Restructures in 2004 and 2008 allayed those difficulties for a short time, but they have returned and are even more significant now. Providing even the core curriculum is becoming increasingly difficult, and options must be contemplated now to prevent further decline.
In 2008, the annual deficit for the School of Music was reported at $1.5 million. That figure now stands at $2.7 million. The university will continue its annual subsidy of $1.4 million, and will shoulder the majority of costs associated with the management of Llewellyn Hall. Any subsidy above that figure means that staff and students in other disciplines-particularly in the arts and social sciences-miss out on educational activities.
To be clear, every dollar that is moved to music is moved away from students and their teachers in disciplines such as the languages, classics and archaeology. Every discipline has a value above money, but staff must be paid, classrooms must be functional, and student equipment must be maintained.
ANU is not alone in struggling with this issue. Other Australian universities are facing the same underfunding problems, and a corrosive cycle of reviews of music programs is doing little to help.
It is my job to ensure the health of the whole university. I want a School of Music that provides world-class education and results for students. Given the constraints that the school has been working within for some time, it is therefore very pleasing that new approaches to music education have been proposed.
Staff and students have been keenly involved in discussions around change since at least 2010. A wide range of data and research has been considered including different approaches to music education, student outcomes and destinations and feedback, changing uses of technologies and global and national expectations about the nature of bachelor degrees.
The proposed new model includes performance, with a new $600 per semester Professional Development Allowance that allows students to buy an hour-long, one-on-one lesson every fortnight. Under this new model students can choose how to spend their PDA, and could opt to attend a summer course, master class or conference, or learn a new piece of music software. The beauty of this model is that the amount awarded to students in the allowance might be increased through external financial support. Indeed, with the right level of support, students might even be able to access more than the 13 hours of lessons per semester they receive under the current curriculum.
The proposed new subject offerings are also designed to appeal to a wider and perhaps different group of students. Streams in music and media technology, the music industry, music education and performance will support graduates in the pursuit of a portfolio of activities. The proposed curriculum will also strengthen opportunities for students who are talented in music, but who have not had access to as many musical experiences because of their economic circumstances or because of where they live.
Connections with the community will also be different and broader under the proposed model, but I believe no less profound. Areas for collaboration will include pre-tertiary music training, school based music and engagement with regional areas. ANU will also provide community access to high quality videoconferencing technology allowing national and international links and provide artistic leadership and support for local cultural events.
For existing students we guarantee they can finish the degree they started, with arrangements in place to allow completion of subjects, including one-to-one tuition. Sessions for students are being run now to discuss individual circumstances. The school's doors will always be open to individuals, businesses, arts organisations and government to explore ways to support and enhance the work of the School of Music and music generally in the ACT community.
I acknowledge that this is a very stressful time for ANU music staff and students.
But I also feel confident that the proposed curriculum captures new and emerging approaches to learning and to the ways students approach careers. Change is critical at the School of Music to ensure a healthy future - as both an innovative school and as a financially stable and sustainable one.
Professor Ian Young is the vice-chancellor of the Australian National University.
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