Making the “Discussion Paper” Work

Posted by savevca1 on December 6th, 2009


In The Age (02/12/09) senior Arts Writer Ray Gill pointed to the importance of working with the University of Melbourne’s (UoM) Discussion Paper on VCA despite its flaws.

SAVE VCA encourage all staff, students, alumni, VCA parents and industry to make a submission to the Review, remembering you dont have to follow any particular format and you can choose to focus on your own area of interest. You can make a personal submission, as a business, as a collective (e.g. VCA Production 1st Year Students) etc.

SAVE VCA will publish sample submissions shortly which you can personalise, but in general terms your submission should include:

  1. VCA NOW: If you are a student or staff member, give the Review Committee a sense of what has been lost post-merger and how this has affected you.
  2. VCA FUTURE – CURRICULUM: Should VCA be 100% practical or liberal arts (aka Melbourne Model) or another combination? Be as specific as possible e.g. the number of contact hours, term length, how many students in a class, how many studio vs lecture classes, how much private tuition. See Discussion Paper pages 21-22.
  3. VCA FUTURE – STRUCTURE: Should VCA remain a Faculty of UoM or demerge (aka back to pre 2007) or become completely independent (heavily reliant on the Rudd Government considering VCA for Arts Ministry funding like NIDA)? See Discussion Paper pages 27-28.
  4. VCA FUTURE – MISSION: What should VCA do? What should it give its students? What should the outcomes be? What do they need in order to be able to get work? What does the industry need of graduates? What is required of VCA to make the best contribution to the Arts economy? What should VCA be offering that is unique in Melbourne?
  5. PERSONAL GOALS: It is extremely important the Review Committee understand your area of interest e.g. if you are talent agent, explain if you think the Melbourne Model will affect graduate quality. If you are an arts business, explain to what degree you are reliant on VCA graduate quality and numbers. If you are a film student, explain why sessional teachers are important to you being able to get work. etc etc.

If you make a submission, we would love to publish it on for others to read. Just email it to us at

The Discussion Paper can be found here. We suggest you also read the SAVE VCA brief which gives more detail on the status of VCA at present.

In the coming weeks SAVE VCA will attempt to get some clarity from UoM on the major queries with the Discussion Paper including:

  • TIMING: Should the 12/02/2010 submission deadline be extended so it falls due after students are back on campus in 2010 so they have more chance to work on submissions together?
  • INDEPENDENCE: The Review Committee is hand-picked by the Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis and the Dean Sharman Pretty. Will the University consider some compromise to allow the 5 staff and 2 student representatives to be elected by the staff and student bodies respectively? It is also unclear whether the “one University academic from outside VCAM” need be a UoM employee?
  • TRANSPARENCY: Will all submissions be published on the Discussion Paper website in a timely manner? The Review Committee’s final report is submitted to the Vice Chancellor and the Dean – will it simultaneously be made public?
  • IMPLEMENTATION: The recommendations of the Review Committee must be approved by the VCA Integration Committee. The three public members of the Advisory Board resigned this year and the University website says the Advisory Board member roles in the Integration Committee are not filled . Who is on this Committee? Are they independent?
  • GOVERNMENT: There is no active engagement with Government in the review process nor is there a formal opportunity for the Victorian and Federal Governments to give a response. What is the University doing to engage Governments in this Review, especially if extra funding is being sought (either through reversing the 2005 $5m p/a funding cut, moving VCA from the Education to the Arts Ministry like NIDA or seeking State Government support like the WA Government give to WAAPA)?
  • LIMITATIONS IN SCOPE: A glaring omission in the Discussion Paper process is any request for feedback on curriculum content. Only structures are offered up for discussion. Staff, students, and industry should be encouraged to detail what they believe are standard benchmarks in terms of (1) how many contact hours are necessary (2) how long should courses run, (3) what percentage should be practical, (4) how many students should be in a class etc. The Review Committee need this information to work out what curriculum and financial structure is appropriate. Will the University issue a call for this information?
  • OMISSIONS: Will the University consider supplying an supplementary document explaining the new financial arrangements imposed on VCA since the merger, most particularly the rental scheme (which saw VCA pay $6m in rent to UoM in 2009 for assets it owned pre merger) and the “responsible division management” of staff? This information is critically important when considering whether VCA would be best to operate as a Faculty of UoM, demerge or becoming independent.
  • UNREASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: Many questions posed by the Discussion Paper require knowledge well beyond that supplied in the paper. For instance, without seeing VCA’s budget, the budgets for each discipline and having an idea of VCA’s running costs in a demerged environment, how can a respondent answer “if an independent VCA operating with the FEE-HELP program is established how will the corresponding significant increase in student fees be avoided” (question 14, page 26)?  Will the University commission an independent financial review of the College to operate in tandem with the Discussion Paper, staffed by experts in the field, to present a range of researched options that lay people can understand?
  1. Are the Review Committee being paid?
  2. Will all Review Committee members have equal weight in putting forth recommendations? Will recommendations have to be unanimously endorsed?
  3. On page 3 the statement is made “in recent years there have been substantial changes to the structure and governance of the way visual and performing arts courses have been offered in the city of Melbourne.” What is this statement based on?
  4. On page 21, “Option 1” Music Theatre is considered a viable practical degree (undergraduate) and practical diploma (post graduate). However, in “Option 2” (page 22), Music Theatre disappears as an option. What makes Music Theatre Melbourne Model “non-friendly”? Conversely, on what basis are the remaining courses deemed Melbourne Model “friendly”?
  5. Should the VCA become independent, there is no mention in the document as to what would happen to the $103m worth of VCA assets UoM inherited at merger. There is also no mention of the cost UoM would charge VCA for UoM-owned land rental (the Drama and Arts buildings sit on UoM land).
  6. On page 24 the Melbourne Model is presented as a revenue raising facility, whereby non-VCAM students are lured to study their breadth subjects at VCAM. Is this appropriate to be considered in this Review process?
  7. Considering the highly controversial tenure of the new Dean Sharman Pretty, will there be any consideration of whether the current VCAM leadership should be reviewed?

As soon as we get answers from the University on the above, we’ll post them here. Alternatively, we invite the University to directly post their responses below.

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4 Responses to “Making the “Discussion Paper” Work”

  1. Good luck for the review. Glyn and Sharman have a history of sacking staff – for what they say are ‘business reasons’. Ziggy is a business executive who has shown more interest in profit than quality or customer service. What can you expect for the outcome of the Discussion paper, and the final decision by Glyn? This looks like an exercise to gain time and allow more staff to leave in despair or be pressured out. The good old Melbourne Model!

  2. Perhaps someone could find this link, but I recall there was an open letter by a previous dean of music at UoM posted on a current staff member’s blog, and it was scathing about the melbourne model and what it would do to music education in Australia. That letter would be useful to have available for the current discussion.


    “Yes, we have received your letter dated 5 January, 2010 and it was forwarded to Dr Ziggy Switkowski, who is currently reviewing the questions.

    I expect a response is not too far away but unfortunately I do not have specific information at this stage.

    I will certainly let you know if I receive any updates.”


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