THE START TO A WIN: What Happened & What We Need To Do Now

Posted by savevca1 on July 28th, 2010

Last week was a significant breakthrough for the SAVE VCA campaign, however there is some urgent work we all need to do to turn the breakthrough into a win.

There is also some misunderstanding in regards to the University’s response to its own Review, particularly concerning the future of Music at VCA.

The quick update:

The quick action list:

No new funding for VCA has been confirmed. We ask that you urgently email the Government (recipients list below) to encourage them to seal the deal on VCA’s financial future.

Email Recipient List:

Make It Easy For Yourself:

Write to express your support of:

  • New Federal funding for VCA of $6-8m p/a for an independent VCA. This is in recognition of VCA’s unique national importance as being the only tertiary College to teach every art form at an elite level, with an emphasis on cross-form collaboration. It also recognises VCA’s funding was severely cut in 2005 by the then Federal Government, thus threatening the College’s ability to contribute to Australia’s cultural landscape and arts economy.
  • VCA’s independence being restored, either by returning to being an affiliate of the University of Melbourne or becoming a stand-alone cultural institution funded through the Federal Arts Ministry. VCA must retain a non-Melbourne Model music program.
  • Recognition that if VCAM is to continue as a Faculty of the University the required new funds significantly increase to $18-20m p/a (refer pages 22-26 of the University of Melbourne’s response to its Review).
  • An ongoing Victorian State contribution to VCA infrastructure and equipment to ensure the College remains nationally and internationally competitive.

In reference to the University’s Response to its VCAM Review, you are concerned:

  • The Melbourne Model is still considered an option for VCAM despite strong staff, student and industry opposition.
  • Music is being broken away from the rest of VCA in spite of the serious concerns expressed by staff and students.
  • Only a Melbourne Model Music program will exist at VCAM.
  • The forthcoming Curriculum Review is not being run independently of the University, and thus is likely to repeat the severe deficiencies of the first Review.

To add weight to your email, please personalise the above before sending it. For instance, if you’re a current student or staff member, include your concerns about your own VCAM experience (e.g. if you have lost subjects, teachers, facilities).


The Possibility of New Funding

In separate statements, the Victorian Premier John Brumby, the Victorian Arts Minister Peter Batchelor & Minister for Education Brownyn Pike and Federal Education Minister Simon Crean all hinted that a new Federal funding arrangement for VCA was imminent.

CREAN (Media Release 22/7/10)

Following representations from Cath Bowtell, Labor Candidate for Melbourne, Mr Crean has agreed to consider how the Federal Government can constructively engage with the issues raised in the University’s response.

 “I know that Cath is a strong advocate of the VCA and has been working with key stakeholders, the State Government, and the community on this issue for some time and I look forward to hearing her advice on the best way the Federal Government can ensure that the important contribution of the VCA to the creative arts is maintained and strengthened” Mr Crean said.


BRUMBY (At the opening of the Melbourne International Film Festival 22/07/10)

I can tell you tonight that we are not resting on this issue. We are having constructive conversations with the Commonwealth on the future of the VCA – and I am determined to deliver a solution for a sustainable, vibrant and appropriately resourced VCA into the future.  I hope to have more to say on this in the near future.

BATCHELOR (Media Release 22/07/10)

Mr Batchelor said the Brumby Labor Government would continue work to find a long-term solution for the VCA, so that it continues to provide a high quality education to the state’s artists.

“We have been having constructive conversations with the Commonwealth, particularly with the new Education Minister Simon Crean and the Federal candidate for Melbourne Cath Bowtell about how to better support the VCA,” Mr Batchelor said.

Batchelor completed a site visit of VCA on Thursday 29/07/10 with Federal Seat of Melbourne Canidate Cath Bowtell, noting in a media release “If these [proposals] are to have a lasting impact, we need to be clear that they will directly benefit the students, the staff, the University and the Victorian community as a whole”. SAVE VCA agree that all new funds should be tied to VCA. Why fund a $18-19m p/a shortfall to keep VCA part of the University (paying the University’s exhorbidant rentals and admin costs), when you could spent $6-8m p/a and have VCA independent? Note these figures where publicly acknowledged by the University in their Response to their Review. Click here for the more info on the figures (scroll to commentary regarding pages 23-27 of the University Response).

PIKE (Media Release 22/07/10)

“We are acutely aware of the important contribution the VCA makes to arts education nationally and I’m pleased that the value of its teaching methods have been acknowledged by the University,” she said.



Hints at policy are one thing – action is another. The Australian Greens and the Victorian Liberals already have firm VCA policies. Make sure you email the above Ministers to ask them to urgently make a firm commitment to VCA.Click here to email now to SAVE VCA.


Dean’s Resignation

Sharman Pretty Defending Course Cuts on ABC Stateline 28-08-09

In an email to VCAM Staff on 22 July 2010, Acting Vice Chancellor John Dewar advised:

“As part of the new direction, the Dean, Professor Sharman Pretty will resign from the position. The University’s response has clarified that the future directions of the Faculty, and hence the role of Dean within that context, will be significantly different to that which Professor Pretty was appointed. As a result Professor Pretty has decided to step down, as such a different role is not one that she would be interested to pursue.”

Whilst it is undeniable the Dean’s tenure was no longer viable (the National Tertiary Education Union even calling for her resignation in May 2010), the ABC 774’s journalist Jon Faine pointed out in an interview with the Acting Vice Chancellor John Dewar that the Dean “has become the fall guy – I think she’s taken the heat that should be higher up the food chain.” Hear the full interview via Facebook.

This point of view is certainly reflected in the University’s response to its Review, with much of the economic rationalist language and seeming unawareness of the arts, once associated with Dean Pretty, remaining present.


The University Response to its Review

As expected, the flawed Discussion Paper released in November 2009, produced a flawed Review process, resulting in a flawed Review Report in May 2010. The University Response to its own Review contains little good news for SAVE VCA members, but does provide further proof that the University of Melbourne is a problematic custodian for VCA.

Read the full University Response to its VCAM Review here.

Summary of Key VCAM Review University Response Points:

  • Commitment to studio based training is affirmed however must be delivered in a “sustainable” manner.
  • The merger remains with no plans to return VCA’s independence. Uni Melb still owns VCA’s assets.
  • Melbourne Model postponed pending a new curriculum review that will be done this year to be actioned from 2011. This new Review will again not be independent, rather Uni Melb will run it. Music will remain an entirely Melbourne Model affair across both campuses.
  • No immediate plan to return cut courses (Music Theatre, Puppetry, Film & TV Doco and Drama).
  • VCAM will remain, but will be split internally into two sectors – Music (Melbourne Conservatorium which is combined UoM Music and VCA Music) and ‘the rest’ (VCA).  Each will have their own director, with the Conservatorium head being Gary McPherson (the current head of VCAM Music) and the head of VCA was TBA (the current head of VCAM Art). The two Directors will report to a Dean. On 27 July 2010 Acting Vice Chancellor John Dewar told staff that current Head of Art Su Baker would become the Director of VCA and that an international search for a new Dean will begin, with the aim of having the new appointee start in 2011. The caretaker Dean, Warren Beddington, has been taken from Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis’ core circle.
  • The different offerings of UoM Music and VCA Music are still not acknowledged, instead they are presented as duplicates. It is unclear why Music is being separated out from the other art forms, thus putting at risk VCA’s unique formula of teaching all art forms, with an emphasis on cross-form collaboration (and the ability to use this unique formula to fight for better Federal funding).
  • The University will continue to subsidise VCAM for an unnamed fixed term, however the required subsidy has now blown out from the original $5-6m to $18-20m per year due to the University’s rental and administration costs.
  • Even though there is acknowledgement that VCA was financially stable prior to the 2005 Federal Funding cut, VCA is still painted as a significant strain on the University and economic rationalism speak abounds e.g. “[VCAM should] take all reasonable steps to reduce the level and duration of transitional funding required”. There is no acknowledgment of the financial burden placed upon VCA by the University in the form of admin and rental costs which were not factored at the time of merger (when Uni Melb scored $103m of VCA assets).

*NEW* For a page-by-page analysis of the University’s Response to its Review click here.

SAVE VCA believes the University has to date, not taken the opportunity to bring about real, positive change in its relationship with VCA and the wider arts community. The language used in the Review Response has an unfortunately familiar tone – with economic rationalism more prominent than ever. In an interview with ABC774’s Jon Faine, Acting Vice Chancellor John Dewar even tried to spin the damage done to VCA by the University as a “valuable exercise”.

Jon Faine: Do you commit to the intensive, studio-based learning that was the success model of the old VCAM?

John Dewar: John we make that clear in the report, that yes we do, but at the same time we accept the recommendations of the Switkowski Review that in reviewing curriculum we have to have a very firm eye on financial sustainability at the same time. We think we can do both, we think we can preserve studio teaching on the one hand while ensuring the long term financial sustainability of this delivery of curriculum. That’s the challenge that we’ve got, and there’s a lot of work to do between now and the end of the year to get there. There’s a lot of appetite amongst our colleagues on Southbank to get on with this and see it through successfully.

Jon Faine: Do you apologise on behalf of the University of Melbourne for the anxiety and the stress caused to the arts community through this entire wasted exercise?

John Dewar: John I think this has been a valuable exercise to get the future directions right.

Jon Faine: It’s been a disaster Acting Vice Chancellor!

John Dewar: Umm look….

Jon Faine: It’s damaged the brand of the University of Melbourne and your standing in the arts community that should be your friends, and you made them your enemies.

John Dewar: We will be ah working very hard to make them our friends again.

There has been no recognition for the distress caused to students and academic and professional staff during the last sixteen months.

It is also unclear why the University has so badly handled the merger with VCA, when it could have quite easily become the premier provider of elite arts education in the country and the Asia-Pacific region. It is also surprising that there has been no real turn around in attitude despite over a year of strong community concern about VCA’s future.


Media Analysis of Recent Events

One thing is certain. The VCAM has a special place in the culture not only of this city, but of this country. Its success is paramount.” The Age Editorial 26 July 2010.


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2 Responses to “THE START TO A WIN: What Happened & What We Need To Do Now”

  1. Natalie Beattie

    I urge all students, parents, and supporters of Save the VCA to send an email. Please dont sit back and rely on others to do your bidding. This may be the last chance to have your say. Good luck VCA!

  2. So why is Glyn Davis in the UK on ‘study leave’ during all this strife? I remember the previous VC also went to the UK on ‘study leave’, and strangely enough, that was where he got his next job…

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