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Arts in Australia under attack

Composer Barry Conyngham is also the dean of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) at the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, and one of increasing numbers of teachers and academics speaking out against arts programmes under threat.

Conyngham has said that visual and performing arts programmes urgently need additional targeted funding “to protect standards that are under threat by over-enrolments in a demand-driven system”.

The Higher Education Support Amendment Bill of 2011 seeks to increase the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree to 40% by 2025, and will see the Australian federal government funding all domestic undergraduate students that universities choose to enrol.

But although the costs of arts programmes are similar to medical degrees, the government currently contributes only AUS$10 832 to cover each arts enrolment, but AUS$19 542 to cover a medical placement.

Evidence produced by a 2011 report, entitled ‘Tertiary Music Education in Australia’ and produced by Global Access Partners, suggests that arts programme standards are slipping. Australia’s Music Council concurs, stating that Australian music students currently receive just 28 hours of individual attention annually, compared with students at European conservatoriums who receive 40-50 hours each per year. The Australian Council of University Art and Design estimates that the highest student–staff ratio that studio art teaching can bear is, on average, 10:1. Currently, however, that ratio has ballooned to 22:1 in colleges across the country.

Conyngham has publicly opted for the continued capping of places in the arts. “I would rather have more money per student and perhaps the same number of students, or even fewer students, rather than having to educate people with insufficient resources,” he said. Ken Richardson, director of planning and management at the University of Queensland, agrees that keeping a high standard of quality is important. “It is [The University of Queensland’s] position that the quality of the teaching and learning experience, benchmarked against international standards, should be the driving factor in determining funding for the sector,” he says.

Category: Winter 2012

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