Off-key: student numbers plummet

Off-key: student numbers plummet

First-year enrolments at the Australian National University's school of music have more than halved this year following last year's industrial turmoil and negative publicity over savage job and funding cuts.

The school has also lost existing students who have moved to other universities to continue their music education or dropped out.

Enrollments at the ANU School of Music have halved.

Enrollments at the ANU School of Music have halved.Credit:Melissa Adams

While last year's first-year intake was about 100, the National Tertiary Education Union said numbers had ''collapsed'' to just 40. The union said there had also been a 20 per cent loss of students across other years.

School of music director Peter Tregear confirmed the number was somewhere between 40 and 60, although exact figures would not be known until the university completed its student census on March 31.


He could not estimate the extent of the ''leakage'' of continuing students but said it was minimal and that the figures were ''a constructive concern for us; clearly we are looking to build on them''.

He also said the enrolment result was positive, given the negative publicity arising from the changes to the school last year.

In May, vice-chancellor Ian Young announced a $1.5 million-a-year budget cut, 13 job losses, and a move away from a conservatorium-style school to a university music model, despite community outrage and a petition containing 25,000 signatures calling on him to abandon the cuts.

Professor Tregear said, given the context, ''that is not a bad number at all, especially considering we are launching a new program and curriculum. This compares with any new roll out and is within the realm of what we'd planned for''.

Professor Tregear estimated once numbers had been confirmed, the school would be down to ''about 190 on last year's 210''. But the union's ACT division secretary Stephen Darwin said the loss of half the first-year student body was a disaster and was also ''in stark contrast to university management's persistent claims that their radical change plan would produce a 15 per cent increase in enrolments and not result in mass redundancies''.

The increase in enrolments was contained within the school of music managing change proposal from May last year.

Moreover, the union warned staff cuts would mean those who were left behind were looking at unsustainable workloads, with some academics expected to teach 15 units or more.

''ANU management must not punish remaining school staff with unrealistic teaching, research and administrative demands because of the failure of their radical change proposal,'' Mr Darwin said.

He warned the union would be monitoring workloads closely ''to ensure they are consistent with the university's commitments under the enterprise bargaining agreement''.

Professor Tregear said the school would operate with eight full-time and 10 sessional staff under a new curriculum, with another two academics arriving mid year. At the start of last year, 24 academic staff were employed.

''I'm confident we will be able to offer a great curriculum and a great education experience,'' he said.

''Bedding down a curriculum is not easy work, even when it is the most planned, confident, community-supported change management. I won't claim things are ever error-free but it's a remarkable turnaround from the base we are coming from.''

While the union had been alarmed to learn of the sudden move of staff and students from the first two levels of the school building and questioned whether space in the landmark Llewellyn Hall building was being used for non-school of music purposes, Professor Tregear said the university had invested in the school of music through a new student hub and consolidating student services and venue management - all for the benefit of building occupants.

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