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It’s time for tertiary music education to change its tune

A broad crisis of confidence has, it seems, beset tertiary music education in Australia. Since returning from Europe in 2006, I have witnessed turmoil of often existential proportions erupt in several…

Tertiary music education is currently in a state of crisis. AAP Image/Paul Miller

A broad crisis of confidence has, it seems, beset tertiary music education in Australia. Since returning from Europe in 2006, I have witnessed turmoil of often existential proportions erupt in several of our major tertiary-level teaching institutions. More recently I was appointed to the helm of what was for a short time one of the most troubled of them all, the School of Music at the Australian National University.

At the time I was asked by many of my colleagues why I would take on such a position — it was clear to me, however, that the problems that I faced there were essentially no different to those besetting the rest. Turning down the challenge that ANU presented would have been tantamount to giving up on the whole enterprise.

Consider, for instance, the fact that in 2011 the Gonski Review of primary and secondary school education declared that Australia was a country in general educational decline, and noted a:

significant gap between its highest and lowest performing [pre-tertiary] students … far greater in Australia than in many Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, particularly those with high-performing schooling systems.

Those students are then encouraged to enter a higher education system itself acknowledged to be under great structural and financial strain.

The roots of the current crisis

We could choose to understand this situation very broadly and recognise something of what Frederic Jameson famously called (appropriately enough in 1984) the “cultural logic of late capitalism”. That is, we should not be surprised to find institutions such as universities in a state of nigh constant crisis as it reflects, according to Jameson and others, a condition inherent to the political and economic order we now inhabit.

We do not need to subscribe to any grand socio-economic theory, however, to recognise that such a state of ongoing crisis can also serve as an effective, albeit crude, form of personnel management. Academic workforces, once proudly anarchic (albeit within tacitly accepted cultural limits), are liable to become much more acquiescent when placed under the panopticon-like gaze of senior university administrators with ever-tightening budgets to balance.

Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Wikimedia Commons

In Australia, however, the ultimate blame is most commonly laid at the feet of the so-called Dawkins Reforms in Higher Education in 1988.

A wide-ranging set of changes to the way tertiary education was structured, one of its most overt consequences was the amalgamation of colleges of advanced education, teachers colleges, and other vocational institutions (including most of the nation’s once-independent conservatoires) with universities. Former head of the Queensland Conservatorium (which merged with Griffith University) Peter Roennfeldt has noted elsewhere that:

some institutions and their leaders are struggling with an internal culture that was formulated during the [pre-Dawkins] era.

But universities too suffered. The resultant confusion in the public’s (and policy maker’s) mind between humanities education and vocational training has led to an inexorable devaluing of the former in favour of a utilitarian attitude towards education in general. According to its harshest critics, the Dawkins Reforms drove the stake of corporate managerialism into the heart of academe.

The challenge for tertiary music education

Performing arts-related schools and departments such as music have come under particular stress in the intervening years principally because of the size of gap that exists between the cost of delivering such courses as they have been traditionally understood and the income government provides to deliver them.

This situation, of course, has its origins in a series of policy decisions (rarely, however, the focus of informed public debate) around how funds are allocated to universities in the first place (principally via the Commonwealth Grants Scheme, or CGS), and then how universities decide to distribute and internally “tax” them.

Richard Tognetti, artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. AAP Image/Dean Lewins

University departments have ended up in internal competition with each other, scrambling for their slice of a budgetary pie that seems ever to be shrinking while more and more need to feed off it. That we have thereby arrived at a culture of internal competition in universities will be music to the ears of an economic rationalist, the results, however, are anything but rational, if only we are willing and able to critique them.

It is understandable that music schools and the like focus on such internal institutional stresses as the primary source of their woes, but they run the risk of conceding the field upon which the battle for their future really needs to be fought, which is the broader societal one. As John Holden, an associate at the independent UK-based think tank Demos wrote:

How many people are sitting at their desks with a tune going round their heads? Why then does government cling to the notion that arts and culture are just about “leisure” and “recreation”, and only happen after the real business of the day is done? This is nonsense and does not reflect lived experience. Yet the government insists that culture can be confined to the smallest ministry with the smallest budget.

To put it another way, the size and manner of distribution of university funding is ultimately a matter of value judgement or, if you like, politics in perhaps its highest form, not management.

The value of music education

The fundamental question we have to address is not, then, financial. It is why what we study and do matters to Australian society at large. Answering such a question, after all, used to be what the arts and humanities did. They helped us understand how we define ourselves, and how we express ourselves through cultural choices.

The ultimate threat to traditionally conceived tertiary music education is, in fact, not to be found within universities and their custodianship of now-subsumed conservatoires. It is in the failure to address the fact that the cultural capital we used to accord the kinds of disciplines and art forms central to a traditional conservatorium education seems to be inexorably declining.

In an article for the Chifley Research Centre last year, for instance, the former leader of the Federal Labor Party, Mark Latham opined that:

[B]y any objective test, classical music, opera and ballet are insufferably boring. They have no social worth other than in the treatment of sleeping disorders. But that’s how the elites like it, safe in the knowledge that people below their station in society are unlikely to join them in the jewellery-rattling rows of the Opera House. Their abstraction from “ordinary people” is secure.

To be sure, Mark Latham is not a source we would generally turn to for moderate commentary, but it would be a mistake, all the same, to dismiss what he says outright. At the very least we should acknowledge, as Ben Eltham did in Crikey, that audiences for this kind of music are not, it appears, growing; and “our nation’s largest orchestras, operas and theatre companies face significant challenges in maintaining and renewing their audiences in the coming decades”.

Can the Australian Ballet, here rehearsing Paquita at the Sydney Opera House, maintain its audience? AAP Image/Jane Dempster

No surprise, then, that today we rarely see, or read a media report of, a senior politician of either of the major political parties attending a symphony concert or opera house. We have drifted very far in a very short space of time, it seems, from the days when a Labor leader, indeed a former prime minister, could declare that he had “reformed the Australian economy on Mahler and Bruckner”!

Instead, in the post GFC world, our public life is largely dominated by economic (and certainly not aesthetic) discourse. Such a state of affairs only serves, among other things, to underline how impotent the arts, and particularly music, now seem to be.

Classical music and modern jazz can appear to have little to say to, or about, contemporary Australian life, while popular music can by the same token appear to have little to offer by way of a critique of it.

And both the old and new musical traditions can be seen to perpetuate problematic conceptions of class, race, and gender, as well as exclusive and exclusionary subcultures. If, however, Jameson and others are right, and it is not just our economy but our culture itself that is dramatically changing around us, what do musicians, and above all those in tertiary music education, have to contribute to it, or say about it?

And if we don’t like what we find, what — indeed — we hear, what are we going to do about it?

Regaining a sense of purpose

An underlying premise of my Platform Paper is that if tertiary music education is to remain relevant and flourish in such dynamic times, then we who deliver it need firstly to move beyond a default position of victimhood, from a stance that suggests that musicians can be at best only passive observers of both departmental and broader societal change. For, how are we going to give our students a sense of agency in the world if we don’t act as if we have it ourselves?

Currently, however, our music faculties seem to have arrived at a point of crisis without a clear purpose. We all know things are not working, but, beyond the usual complaints of a lack of government funding, we are not clearly articulating why, or – more particularly – why our fate should matter to those not otherwise interested in music at all. We know why it matters to us more immediately; we have jobs to keep, administrative targets to meet, students to recruit, and so on.

Opera Australia rehearses La Traviata in 2012. AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

But we also know, even if we rarely declare it, that just maintaining the status-quo will not be enough to trade ourselves out of our difficulty, or reaffirm our claim on an increasingly stretched, and sceptical, public purse.

We need, instead, to rearticulate and reformulate the case for such funding. To my mind, the case must start with a refocusing and re-energising of music’s potential to play a role in the broader mission of the humanities to sustain civil society, no less. Our key educational challenge will then be to find a sustainable accommodation between the obligation we have as educators to engage with the rapidly changing broader cultural and political circumstances of today, while at the same time preserving, and where necessary defending, what we believe to be the core values (technical, ethical, aesthetic etc.) of our discipline.

While the solutions arrived at at ANU of course reflect in part circumstances peculiar to the Australian Capital Territory, they are also responses to questions that I think all Australian tertiary music institutions will in some form need to address.

Ultimately, I would suggest that if universities across the nation are to continue to affirm and commit (both financially and culturally) to higher education in music there is an urgent need to become advocates, as the ANU has been doing, for not just about how, but also why, we teach music on campus.


This is an extract from Platform Papers 38, Enlightenment or Entitlement: Rethinking tertiary music education, by Peter Tregear. It is published by Currency House.

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88 Comments sorted by

  1. Suzy Gneist
    Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

    Thank you for an insight into the subject. Maybe my European upbringing has caused me to consider arts culture as an essential and inspiring part of life, but then it was always in reach to us. Concert, opera, museums, theatre performances were all available to secondary/tertiary students and their families at subsidised cost or free. In Australia this has not been the case and creates a barrier to many to ever partake and experience such performances. Many people I know have never been to a live…

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    1. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      "Concert, opera, museums, theatre performances were all available to secondary/tertiary students and their families at subsidised cost or free."
      Suzy how long ago was this, does it still happen today? There are programs, and tricks, and rorts, that allow students and poorer people to enjoy opera, theatre, ballet, concerts, very cheaply, and even free, but they are not widely known about. Ironically, the only people who really know how to access them are the already very privileged.

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    2. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      I think that subsidised concerts etc for students still happen in Europe, at least in Germany, and are part of the school program, not just for privileged students. Music schools outside the public school system and adult education music programs receive public funds. Which might explain the much greater interest in hearing and playing amateur music than in this country.

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    3. Suzy Gneist
      Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      As far as i know these opportunities are still available through schools - to all students - and most schools are public, with only a minority of private schools. I can't speak for the latter, but my nephew has access to arts programmes still - he may not show as much of an interest though.

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  2. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    'We need, instead, to rearticulate and reformulate the case for such funding. To my mind, the case must start with a refocusing and re-energising of music’s potential to play a role in the broader mission of the humanities to sustain civil society'

    I'm curious what this means in practical terms.

    First, who's 'we' - is it heads of department, teaching staff, students, or someone else?

    Second, what needs to happen? Do advocates need to talk more about music? Should the music curriculum change? Should students perform more?

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  3. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    If the bottom line is money (as it always seems to be), then I suppose the ancient Greek mantra of "the biggest bang for the buck" should apply - in theory.

    In terms of music, it is one of the most socially cohesive themes in today's world.

    Music is everywhere - in houses, cars, lifts, restaurants, theatres, fields, phones, tablets, computers etc.

    Perhaps the true power of music has never been grasped by anyone other than music company executives, let alone politicians.

    Music is the soundtrack…

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    1. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      The statistic of 95% you quote is misleading. ABS figures show that over 10% of older Australians attend classical concerts or opera. (Postgrads nearly 30%!). It's true that younger people attend significantly less. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/0/FC492ED6D9225A39CA2577C00013BCB2?OpenDocument
      Of course these figures don't reflect demand in country areas with less access to classical concerts or people who just listen to classical music on CD or radio.
      In the UK, classical music has been rising in popularity http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/5983410/Classical-music-rising-in-popularity-as-people-seek-tranquillity.html
      There is a strong argument that music education should maintain our cultural heritage.

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    2. Giles Pickford
      Giles Pickford is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired, Wollongong

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Music and Art are the only two forms of communication that do not use words. This is where their immense power lies.

      When you get involved in words there is always a dispute. So writing is inevitably a weaker form of communication.

      Stephen says we should give people what they want. But people can't want something they have never heard of. Ask any group "who wants Bruckner's 9th Symphony". If they have never heard it they wouldn't know.

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Hi David - that was no statistic, it was a guess on my part.
      I'm into educated guesses a lot.....so I was out by 5%, that's not bad for a guess.

      I'm not making a value judgement on the type of music that is popular,
      just what floats peoples boats in terms of musical entertainment.
      AND can we justify spending many millions on the 10% at the expense of the 90%.

      For my choice, top of my list is jazz, second is "classical"......
      and then any song by Patsy Cline, Dusty Springfield or Ella.

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I hear what you say Giles, but conversely a lover of Bruckner may never have heard an AC/DC song, or if you are just on melody, an Oscar Peterson solo.

      If people only listen to the radio they will only ever hear one twentieth (?) of music extant. Broaden horizons and discover a whole gamut of fabulous music.

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    5. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      If underestimating support for classical by 100% is OK with you, then fine. To make a rational assessment of public support for classical music and opera we would need to know the actual amount of subsidy and make a reasonable estimate of the extent of public support. At the same time, we need to compare the extent of public grants and funding for other forms of music and performance - rock concerts, jazz etc.e.g. from the Australia Council. Classical may be a minority taste, but then so are jazz and Patsy Cline. If we attack one minority taste, we attack all minority tastes.

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    6. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I'm not attacking any musical taste.......how did I underestimate support for classical music by 100%?

      I said in terms of the West about 95% don't have any taste for opera, ballet or classical........

      I'm having trouble following you - and you me apparently.

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    7. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Ralph, if you say that only 5% of people support classical music when the true figure is over 10%, you are out by more than 5%. A difference of 5% is 100% of 5%.

      When you recommend selectively withdrawing subsidy from one form of music and not others, you are attacking that taste.

      Follow me now?

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    8. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Fair enough.......I'm not recommending withdrawing subsidies from opera etc, but I am for reducing the subsidy.

      I'm not aware of there being subsidies for say rock, country, bluegrass to the extent of opera or ballet or classical. The symphony orchestras cost many millions alone. One opera cost millions to stage >>>>

      """Consider the statistics of Opera Australia's first complete Ring cycle, opening in Melbourne next month: the cost (approximately $20 million), private patronage ($6m-plus in donations)""""

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    9. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen, I don't know the relative stats, but I do know for certain that there are many, many public events where rock bands and other groups are supplied at public expense. My not-very-classical community band got a small government grant last year. I think Big Day Out is another example. As far as I know, ABS doesn't keep track of the consolidated figures.
      As I noted before, before we talk about reducing subsidies for one genre, we need to study the subject and have an objective look at the comparative figures, rather than having a guess based on personal likes and dislikes.

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    10. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Well the irony here is I have a liking for most types of music.....

      this is NOT about personal preferences, it is simply about funding the least popular music at an excessive rate compared to popular music.

      It's almost arrogant and absurd to fund opera to the current level.

      Give the people what they want, not what you think they should like.

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    11. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      It only becomes 'arrogant and absurd' when the comparative statistics are known and we know for certain that opera is funded comparatively more than other genres. Still more arrogant would be to cut subsidies without doing the maths first. Your grasp of the statistics seems marginal at best, as you were unaware of the extent of government support for other genres (e.g. via the Australia Council). As for 'giving people what they want' - from personal observation, opera plays to full houses or near full houses here and overseas.
      From the evidence so far, you have a clear dislike for opera. That's your choice, but let's make fair comparisons between genres.

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    12. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Funny how perceptions become confused......at no point did I EVER mention not liking opera.

      I have listened to that genre of music since my twenties, when the greats of the 20th century were at their peak....
      Sutherland, Callas, Pavarotti, and many many others.

      As cliched as it has now become, I am moved to tears every time I hear In the Depths of the Temple by Bizet. My favourite version being by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill.

      Mind you it does become a bit cringeworthy seeing (but not listening to) a middle-age Joan Sutherland in costume for Puccini's "Girl of the Golden West."

      And Rita Hunter bless her was never the ingenue, but forever Brunhilde. You'll remember when she came to live in Australia in the early 1980s.

      And as for Callas - probably not the most technically great soprano, but certainly the most sensational - those low notes brought a chill, and the highs....well simply breathtaking.

      But you must know all this of course.

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    13. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen, I don't know it all by any means. I was an enthusiastic opera-goer (paying eye-watering prices, but worth it). And I love to play renditions from opera. So if you share my tastes, I'm even more puzzled why you want to end subsidy for opera without researching the matter and putting its subsidy into perspective wrt other genres.

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    14. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      every dollar they take away from opera should be matched by a dollar taken away from synchronized swimming. -a.v.

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    15. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Opera and Ballet gets funded to the tune of about $20 million annually.

      The Australian Arts Council will give grants of up to $40,000 to art & music applicants. The AAC does list the many grants available, but doesn't (as far as I can see) list the actual dollar value of the grants.

      From my pov, it is not whether I or you or anybody LIKES opera or ballet, but whether the money provided is "value for money", in terms of promoting art & music to the greatest audience.

      And again I say that…

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    16. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Yep - sorry the Australian Council........I was thinking it was the Aust Arts council.

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    17. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      All these things are done in Europe (perhaps not resident musicians), but classical music and opera still remain strong and popular. It's a pity we don't do it on the same scale here. But the music scene for kids (which I am aware of since I play alongside music teachers) is fairly strong. You still haven't grasped my point that without doing the sums, you can't muck about with current financial allocations. All your discourse about good ideas for music education evades this basic point.

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  4. Andy George

    logged in via email @yahoo.com.au

    "We know why it matters to us more immediately; we have jobs to keep, administrative targets to meet, students to recruit, and so on."
    So your keeping your jobs is more important than making sure the quality of the program being run is world class?
    Very telling where your priorities lie...

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  5. Stewart Riddle

    Lecturer in Literacies Education at University of Southern Queensland

    Thanks for a really interesting article, Peter. I think that it's important to acknowledge the changing landscape of music and find ways to work with the shifting dynamics rather than pointlessly resisting them. I have several colleagues who work in schools of music and creative industries who have been finding it very tough going over the past couple of years. There doesn't seem to be a clear end in sight.

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    1. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to John Crest

      My apologies.

      It's the IMDb page for the Australian made 2001 documentary "Facing the Music".

      It follows Professor Ann Boyd from the University of Sydney as she comes to grips with how to slash the music department's costs in the wake of the Dawkin's cuts (discussed above).

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    2. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      John I really, really enjoyed that doco. But I was really stunned at just how incredibly unworldly all these extremely talented musician academics were. Professor Boyd was in her 60s, but she acted as though it had never once crossed her mind where all these expensive instruments, performance spaces, and academic salaries came from? It never occurred to her they were all paid for by taxpaying citizens. It also seems as though in her 60 years she had never given a thought to how a university academic…

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    3. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to John Crest

      Andy, you are SO right and that aspect of the film was (to me) a damning indictment of the sheltered workshop life the career academic has lived.

      And what about Boyd's justification for not going on strike at the start of the academic year: it would psychologically traumatise the students! A true LMAO moment. Cut to 30 mins later, and there she is at the front of the picket line!

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    4. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      Yes John, that was what I found so riveting about the doco - the authenticity of this woman's journey. While I warmed to characters, and was able to accept that on their terms, they really were experiencing a life-changing process, I can also detach, and say "WTF! You people have been around for sixty years, have degree galore, and travelled the world, how could you be so blind as to how this merry-go-round is oiled?

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    5. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to John Crest

      Very well said Andy - couldn't agree more or have expressed it better.

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    6. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      Have you never heard of division of labour, Andy? The university has bean-counters, IT people and economists to help do the sums, project management and financial planning. Is it optimum use of academics' time to plan budgets and do book-keeping when they call on people trained in these fields for assistance?

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    7. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      Actually David, what we are talking about comes under the heading "basic general knowledge/functional literacy"; prerequisites for functioning - let alone thriving - in the modern world. As I said, if you don't have basic Accounting and Microeconomics in your cognitive toolbox, you really are getting around with a hell of a handicap. This was illustrated so clearly in the Anne Boyd doco, which ended with all the academics collapsing in a heap, completely befuddled by the world around them, unable to go on, resigning, or taking indefinite sick leave.

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    8. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      And besides, the whole job of being the Head of Department in a university is about managing resources.

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    9. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      One positive innovation in the OECD PISA tests is that in 2012, they've added another domain to test - financial literacy.

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    10. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      You have ignored my argument about division of labour, Andy. I'm sure you have read Adam Smith. I haven't seen the documentary, but I'm sure the academics wouldn't have collapsed in a heap if they had had adequate assistance from their bean counters. I know that some firms/institutions cut corners and try to push this role onto people who are not trained for it. Ends up in wasted efforts, tears all round and misuse of the academics' time.
      When I was a systems software development manager, I tried to shield programmers as much as possible from bean-counting so that they could spend most time on their area of expertise.

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    11. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      David, we are not talking about splitting the atom. We are talking about basic literacy, and having developed some idea about things that make the world go around by the time you are in your sixties.

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    12. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      Still haven't addressed my argument. Btw I am in my sixties.
      Not sure if basic accountancy and double-entry book-keeping is generally useful - I did a basic course in 1978 and have never used it in my professional careers.

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    13. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      "I haven't seen the documentary."
      Ah, OK. i just got that. Right-e-o.

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    14. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      Yes, I was relying on your no doubt accurate description of it, Andy. Do you want to answer my point about division of labour or do you just want to make trite remarks?

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    15. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      Well if that's your understanding of 'division of labour', we are not on the same page. Just as we should not be excused from tying our boot laces, because we are not cobblers...

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    16. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      My understanding of division of labour is in Book 1 of the 'Wealth of Nations'. And I don't do my own tax calculations.

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    17. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      David, that's the problem, the knowledge you need so that you don't end up like Professor Boyd and her staff, is not covered in 18th century textbooks. You learn about the division of labour by doing.

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    18. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      False reasoning, Andy. Adam Smith's writings on the division of labour are still valid today. Try any introductory economics textbook. You will find that most industrial production has division of labour. Yes, I did learn about the division of labour by doing. I used to do my own tax returns, but I found that wasn't a good use of my valuable time (and tedious) and paid for an expert to do it. Universities have (or should have) experts in accountancy, resource allocation and project management. Why would you buy a dog and bark yourself?

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    19. Robert Davidson

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to John Crest

      Strange the fundamentalism of our age, that you can supposedly only function if trained in the religion of economic rationalism. Any other age would find it as bizarre as we find the medieval scholastics today.

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    20. Robert Davidson

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to John Crest

      See, only our age would call concern for the arts, separating them from the supposedly overriding concerns of the market, living in a sheltered workshop. It is a very skewed view. The market wants to dominate everything. But the point of a university is, partially, to stand separate from the market. We need to resist the domination of economics over all of life.

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    21. Robert Davidson

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to John Crest

      It's time to change the mindset of the modern world and realise that economics is a servant, not a master.

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    22. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to John Crest

      Not sure what your point is David.

      Neither Andy nor I are suggesting Prof Boyd needed to have these skills and / or understanding per se, but as Head of her Dept, she sure as hell did.

      As it plays out in the documentary, she is found desperately wanting in this role.

      Whether or not the university can and / or should have provided more support is open to debate (watch the show and let us know what you think).

      I don't really have an issue with the fact she didn't have the technical skills to perform the role (she largely gains them by the end of the academic year).

      It was rather pathetic to see, however, her attitude (or complete lack of understanding - it's not clear which it is) to the fact that she has finite resources to achieve her goals.

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    23. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      You are being obtuse, John. I suggested that a functional university might (and should) have the skills bank to assist Prof Boyd, as you yourself recognise in your 3rd sentence. Whether it is efficient use of her time to do the bean-counting and the maths of resource allocation, instead of her main task of setting priorities and strategies and guiding staff and students is another question. Prof Davis was expensively trained to be a music expert and teacher, the university (and Andy) have an unrealistic expectation that she should spend her time on bean-counting and resource allocation. Division of labour considerations suggest this is a significant loss of productivity.

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    24. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      It's worse than that, Robert. Economists often purport to know more about a subject than its practitioners.

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    25. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to John Crest

      I am not trying to be obtuse: rather, the opposite.

      And you are absolutely correct about being HoD being an inefficient use of her time and experise. I'd have to watch the doco again to be sure, but I have a vague memory that she is only in the job because it's her turn: the role is (or was) rotated amongst the staff on a set time basis.

      But I do disagree with your comment that we have an "unrealistic expectation that she should spend her time on bean counting and resource allocation", for the simple reason that that's the job she agreed to do. In fact, we have a realistic expectation that that's what she should be doing.

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    26. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      John, your 2nd sentence, where you said that I was absolutely correct, was my main point and you had previously said: "Not sure what your point is David." So I can be excused if I thought you were trying to be obtuse.
      Not having seen the documentary and having to rely on your and Andy's analysis of it and some reviews, I am not sure that Prof Boyd knowingly put her hand up for extensive bean-counting. Sounds unlikely.

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    27. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to John Crest

      Can you agree that "bean counting" and "resource allocation" are the proper function of a Head of Department?

      I heartily recommend the documentary to you - should you watch it, I'd love to know what you made of it.

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    28. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Crest

      Sorry, I can't agree that 'bean counting' should be the principal function. That's what admin and accounting staff are for. Perhaps resource allocation and financial planning are part of the duties (with assistance from admin), but these should not be the main task either. In my view, the Head of Dept should provide academic leadership, set priorities and strategies, manage staff and students.
      I would ask if the uni authorities just wanted a financial manager and planner, why didn't they hire one?

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    29. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to John Crest

      Fair call. And those functions are what she was failing dismally at.

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    30. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to John Crest

      Curious that 'Facing the Music' came up in conversation here. I recall seeing it with colleagues at another Australian University where I was then working, and we all went hoping we'd be encouraged to 'man the barricades' etc afterwards. Instead we all, without exception, came out disillusioned and down-heartened--it seemed a department that neither could find an accommodation with the world-as-it-is-now, nor offer an inspiring critique of it. The film may have been excellent in portraying a human drama, but a defence of music in universities it was not.

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    31. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to John Crest

      Spot on analysis of that doco, Peter.

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    32. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to John Crest

      Exactly. It portrayed the "year that was" for Ann Boyd very well.

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  6. John Durr

    Manager

    As some one who works in the music industry, I note that most students leave tertiary music learning with very few skills to perform at the standard we require. I am talking about genres such as Blues, Soul etc but the skills required would translate across any genre of music. The bedrock of modern music, derived from the US/Afro American music, the shuffle, is not considered in any detail, is an example.

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    1. Robert Davidson

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to John Durr

      Depends what you're training for. Those skills may not be so relevant to working in an orchestra (though they are somewhat relevant).

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  7. Pat Moore

    gardener

    These crises afflicting "Humanities", the Fine and Liberal Arts in universities are down the line effects, joining the multitude of victims of economic rationalism, the mad market gone global under the rule of the encrypted corporate elite, grown to god-like proportions under the protective cloak of the US empire. It's "welcome to the nightmare" I'm afraid. Judging from articles presented on this academic site ( a great forum) it is apparent that perhaps Arts departments of sandstone universities…

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  8. Andy Cameron

    Care giver

    "To my mind, the case must start with a refocusing and re-energising of music’s potential to play a role in the broader mission of the humanities to sustain civil society, no less."
    Peter, look I'm broadly on board with this position, and very rarely agree with Martha Nussbaum on everything, but the fact is the war against the humanities over the past thirty years makes your project completely unviable. The sort of humanities education you and Martha Nussbaum are advocating a "return" to is too late. This sort of education is nowadays increasingly accessible only at the better private schools, old, established, elite selective high schools and half a dozen universities in Australia.

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    1. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy, you may well be right that Universities are failing/fading. I am not inclined to be optimistic However, if it is just the 'elites' to be given such education, then at the very least it is even more important that it be grounded in an ethical core, a grander purpose (this is what I gently suggest in the larger Platform Paper from which this is drawn)--we then hold up at least some hope of getting those with privileged access to power in society to be concerned about more than just themselves, and getting their own kids into the same schools etc etc. One of my arguments is that a good University education brings with it implicit social obligations.

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    2. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Peter, I'd be very wary celebrating that "former prime minister, could declare that he had “reformed the Australian economy on Mahler and Bruckner”!"
      It was precisely his reforms, which Dawkinised the universities, leading to the direr straits of mass universities we have today.

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    3. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      It's one of the many ironies of the Keating years, I guess, that aspects of his particular politics of 'vision' (regardless of what one's own position might be on the particularities of that vision) certainly played a part in entrenching the ascendency of the politics of 'management', of valency if you like, in Australia, as in most of the West. The Gov's job nowadays is really reduced to managing the economy, no more or less--and that is essentially an issue of competency only, not itself an ideological (i.e. value-laden and grounded itself in a vision of society) one. We have indeed seen an evisceration of substance of political discourse--the last two Federal election campaigns being the most potent (and depressing) examples.

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    4. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Keating was a very exceptional person. Somebody with the native intellect and wit, he could thrive anywhere, and was fortunate to be born into a tight culture (Sydney Irish Catholic ALP Right) contemptuous of the need for bourgeois affectation, which he associated with the Protestants and bourgeoisie. He was in a position from very early in his life to turn his natural wit and intellect to charming powerful and erudite people, from whom he got his education - where Treasury PhD boffins, aristocratic…

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    5. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      It would good to ask him. He did set up ANAM, and was, of course, a friend and supporter of pianist Geoffrey Tozer (his eulogy at Tozer's funeral was Keating at his firebrand best)--this makes me think he might have been more against privileged elites than elite art forms per se. I've written a little more on this subject here http://www.melbournereview.com.au/arts/article/all-i-want-for-christmas

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    6. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Peter, ah, that is a very astute distinction, which I think would probably describe Keating very well. Though all his children took Commerce/Law degrees. But perhaps his view was, "look, unless you've got some talent/genius for the humanities/arts stuff, don't waste your time, and my money, on something you'll always be only ever average/mediocre at". I actually have a very similar view. A couple of years ago I had to argue very hard to talk a young relation out of studying English at uni. She achieved…

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    7. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Excellent piece you wrote, and spot on. I especially liked:
      "however, surely Keating’s passion for such music is not just a matter of taste and personal biography but also of function and meaning."
      Don't forget another one Keating's passions - architecture. As I said, clearly born naturally with great cognitive powers, especially for form, and system building. It would take a very special person to leave school at 15, yet spend their most productive career years, fascinated by manipulating huge nation-wide macroeconometric models, then condensing them into vernacular language for the laity (and, of course, latte)

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  9. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

    I love classical music (selectively, of course), and greatly admire its performers, even having friends who are members of several orchestras here, but I have difficulty in seeing why musical training belongs in a university. Surely universities' major role is to push back the frontiers of knowledge, whereas conservatoria aim to produce outstanding performers? They inhabit different planets, so no wonder academic musical departments are in trouble.

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    1. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Paul, it's not the music school's fault. It was the Dawkins Reforms, which made all these largely incoherent, formerly independent higher education colleges merge with a university. You are right, musical training does NOT belong in a university, neither does Film, Journalism, Nursing & Midwifery, Education (pedagogy), Hospitality and Tourism, Sports Management, Public Relations, Marketing, Public Health & Health Promotion (see Marketing), Nutrition, Justice Studies, Human Resources, or Podiatry.

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    2. Robert Davidson

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      There's a lot more to being an informed, intelligent performer (or other kind of musician, such as a composer) than playing scales. It's an intellectual pursuit, as the medievals recognised with their Quadrivium.

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  10. Ken Taylor

    Research Scientist at CSIRO

    I'm pleased to see the perspective of the new head of school on what seemed to be the destruction of an excellent music program. I formed this view when my daughter was a student there in a program offered to senior school students and funded by the ACT education department. Unfortunately it confirms rather than challenges my views that it was wanton vandalism by pompous heathen. The fundamental issue was captured in the quote "some institutions and their leaders are struggling with an internal culture…

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    1. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Ken Taylor

      Ken, I _strongly_ urge you to read the longer essay if you can. I just can't agree with your assessment on the facts, but also on principle--musicians do need to be accountable to society, not simply assert their value and sit back... We can have a debate on the terms of that accountability, to be sure, but much of the commentary at the time, and indeed what you imply, suggests that we should not be so concerned--certainly no journalist reporting the issue in Canberra seemed to look carefully and assess whether the claims made by the defenders of the old School held up under fair scrutiny. Frankly, they didn't, and I detail this in my essay. And I do agree with James Jenkin... You should definitely come and see what this has all meant in practical terms.

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    2. Henriette Vanechop
      Henriette Vanechop is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Ken Taylor

      To Andy Cameron (?)
      " I would rather see a program established that took music of all genres to schools and communities - including ballet & opera, but also jazz, country, zydeco and whatever else.

      There is such a broad range of music that can be explored to show kids and young adults that there is a world beyond the "pop" music culture.

      Have resident musicians in schools, or a group of schools.
      Probably better therapy than religious advisors - in my humble opinion.

      Allow kids to…

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Ken Taylor

      Hear hear HV............so much to gain from making music, and exploring the world of musical genres.

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  11. Gabrielle Deakin

    musician

    Peter, I was interested and heartened to see someone in your position asking these questions. Those of us who have had our musical careers ouside the "elite" circles (by which, understand me, I mean major orchestras, prestigious teaching institutions and the like) have been dealing with these exact questions for a long time and searching for ways to make what we do meaningful to all involved, ourselves, our audiences, our students... I think a lot of the most authentic musical culture nowadays is…

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    1. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Gabrielle Deakin

      Gabrielle--thanks so much for these thoughtful and considered (and indeed generous) comments. You may like to know that I do indeed raise the vexed issue of one-to-one teaching at some length in the Platform Paper---and I agree with you pretty-much 100& with you here. Of course one-to-one teaching can be a fantastic experience for both parties, but there are also significant cultural and educational problems that can (and do) arise--but are rarely discussed in an honest and open manner, as witnessed by much of the public commentary around ANU in 2012. And that's before we examine issues of cost (and who should pay).

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    2. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Gabrielle Deakin

      Music _has_ to be taught one on one? It can surely be taught in all sorts of ways, and I reference recent studies that demonstrate this. Sure, we can acknowledge that there are particular, perhaps even some irreplaceable, benefits from one-on-one teaching, especially for certain types of music, and you'll have no disagreement from me if so, but there are also risks (which are rarely, if ever, discussed). Can it also not be mixed with other forms of learning? Certainly, why should it be portrayed as an either-or between one-on-one or passive watching of video presentations (I discuss the problems of the latter also in my Paper)? The possibilities we now have are, I think, much richer.

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    3. Gabrielle Deakin

      musician

      In reply to Gabrielle Deakin

      Actually Giles, learning to play an instrument well or sing (like any art form) is complicated blend of teaching and self-discovery in which personal investigation and experimentation plays a huge role... so the comparison with surgery is not so fortunate. We don't want budding surgeons who experiment with new ways of doing things while they are learning-- but we DO want musicians who look for their own approach to both musical and technical issues; the protected, somewhat molly-coddled setting of…

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  12. Rudi Kelle

    logged in via Twitter

    School is hard work . Passing the 3 r's is difficult enough without adding the labour-intensive mastery of an instrument .Most music students choose business careers rather than vie for a place in an orchestra in east europe .
    Musicianship cannot be taught - it must be a natural talent and a fundamental force in your being .
    Meticulously studying the past masters of all genres gets you up to speed but from there to creativity is a vast leap .
    I was a music student at Mod - way back and while the camaraderie was palpable, the choice of gigs was limited.
    Rock and Roll was my calling ... and most rock and Rollers learnt their trade in their bedroom .

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