The University today announced a massive restructure of the School of Music, which will see the end of the performance-focused Bachelor of Music and one-on-one tuition, and full-time positions nearly halved at the school. From next year, students will be offered an overhauled and “professionally oriented” curriculum that centers on “graduate outcomes” for students.

At a meeting of students this morning, the head of the School, Professor Adrian Walter, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, said that funding pressures and a “challenging environment” had forced the school to dramatically change its offerings to students. Professor Walter said that with the changes, the Music School will be “in control of its future and will enhance its capacity to engage with the [Canberra] community”

There will be approximately ten full-time jobs cut from the School in a “spill”, with all 23 full-time positions to be declared vacant, and staff encouraged to apply for only 13 full-time positions. Most staff at the School are employed on a casual basis, however, the University did not specify whether cuts will be made to sessional employment.

New music students will lose access to one-on-one tuition and dedicated theory classes, with intensive workshops and videoconferencing sessions replacing many current course offerings. Students will be given an allowance which they can use to purchase tuition privately (around $600 a semester). Professor Walter conceded this will be half of what is currently available, and would buy around 6-8 hours of private tuition at market rates. Currently all students are offered 13 hours of tuition per semester.

“Career destinations will underpin what we offer”, said Professor Walter. Professor Hughes-Warrington said that the changes were “educationally exciting” and offered “new opportunities” to the school. Both emphasised that the new degree focus had developed out of areas of “student demand”.

The two made it clear that the changes would only apply to new students, and that current students would be allowed to complete their degrees in their current forms. Instead, they pointed to new benefits for present students arising from the changes, such as the move to videoconference master classes and work-integrated learning.

At a press conference following the meeting, Professor Hughes-Warrington said the changes had been in the works for three years, although the recent financial environment had necessitated a faster timetable. She said that the School of Music ran an annual deficit of $2.7 million, and confirmed that the goal of the restructure would be to eliminate the deficit, and for the School to “live within its means”.

She said this proposal was not related to the recently announced (and partially retracted) cuts across the University, totaling $40 million. However, Stephen Darwin strongly challenged this assertion, saying that the both proposals were part of a larger plan to abolish tenure at the university. He said that the cuts had “nothing to do with curriculum” and were designed to radically change the university’s character.

The University has said that it expects a “significant” increase in the number of students at the School due to the changes. Currently around 260 students study at the School. Last year the school accepted less than 100 students from more than 500 applicants. Professor Walter conceded that the changes may mean that the School will enroll students with lower standards of music performance.

They said that the changes may allow people from rural and regional areas or lower socioeconomic status backgrounds who have been denied high-quality musical education to enroll in the new programme.

Student anger

However, music students have attacked the proposal, saying that it would turn the school into a “glorified musical TAFE” and that promises about transition arrangements for current students could not be trusted, given the way music students had been treated by the School of Music and the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS).

Many predicted that there would a mass exodus of students and staff, and were visibly upset by the proposal, saying they felt betrayed by the University’s decision. They expressed concern about the viability of the School of Music in training performing musicians, and the future of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Canberra International Music Festival who rely on School of Music students and staff.

The ACT Divisional Secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union, Stephen Darwin, told Woroni that the proposed changes would be “in violation of the ANU’s Enterprise Agreement”. He said he was furious with the way staff had been treated.

“What they have told those staff, even though they work in the School of Music, their skills aren’t fitting in. This is dramatic, it is radical and is a violation of the ANU enterprise agreement,” he said, adding that the announcement today “Is not an appropriate way to treat valuable staff. It is disrespectful and we are shocked that the University has taken this approach to a curriculum change. What does this mean for other areas of the University?”

ANUSA President Dallas Proctor said that the university’s attitude towards students was reprehensible, arguing that the focus on vocational training was at odds with the university’s emphasis on academic excellence. “From the Students’ Association’s perspective it seems like a cover up to remove the ANU School of Music altogether,” he said. “You need money to fund the school of music, they should be lobbying the government.”

There have also been allegations that student representatives have been kept in the dark and misled about the changes. Representatives from the ANU Students’ Association Yasmin Masri and Jack Hobbs say they were told by CASS’s Associate Dean (Education) Dr Royston Gustavson that any changes to course offerings would “be based on student demand and not cost-cutting”. They accused the university of deceiving them and expressed “disappointment that the university was watering down the School of Music”.

Mr Darwin said the consultation with staff had been negligible. He said he had been invited to a meeting yesterday with the Vice-Chancellor, at which he was given no specific information or justification for the restructure.

There will be a consultation period of three weeks about the proposed changes. Music students have been encouraged to speak with Professor Walter about the changes, while Professor Hughes-Warrington said that “one on one” advice would be offered by CASS to all current students to help them adjust to the changes. However, some students present at the meeting ridiculed this, saying that CASS treated music students with disdain.

This move comes after Vice-Chancellor Ian Young last year gave the go ahead for the closure of the School of Music library, and the relocation of its collection to the Art School library as part of a cost-cutting and “consolidation” exercise of specialist libraries.