Key Areas of Concern in the University’s Response to its VCAM Review

On 22 July 2010 the University of Melbourne released its response its Review of VCAM Review (also known as the Switkowski Review).

The below gives a page-by-page analysis of the University’s Response to its Review, highlighting key areas of concern. The analysis is providing in chronological order.

Page 7 “It is important to recognise that most of the VCA’s financial problems have their origins in circumstances outside the control of the (sic) either the University of (sic) the VCA. The requirement by a previous Commonwealth government that the University fund a shortfall created by a change in government policy has effectively compromised the level of funding available to other faculties and academic disciplines within the University.”

SAVE VCA has long maintained that, contrary to earlier University spin painting VCA as a institution living beyond its means, prior to the 2005 Howard Government funding cut of $5m annually, VCA ran in the black (i.e. was not in debt). This was an extraordinary feat in itself considering VCA has always received much lower funding levels than its Arts Ministry funded counterparts such as NIDA and AFTRS. The University’s acknowledgement of this in the Review Response is welcome. See for more info on VCA finances.

It’s important to note that the national changes to the cluster system in 2005 which saw VCA lose $5m annually, actually saw the University gain $11m p/a – thus was the logic of the then Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson in forcing the University to pick up VCA’s shortfall. An arrangement the University fought to avoid.

SAVE VCA disagrees with the University’s assessment that the current level of subsidy being supplied to VCA (over $20m for 2010 alone according to the chart on page 8), is “outside the control” of the University. The fact remains that in 2007 the University inherited over $103m of assets in the VCA merger for free, and yet immediately started charging VCA “responsible division management” rentals for use of these assets. Overnight VCA’s Administration and Land costs went from $11.7m (2006) to $21.5m (2007), just because of the merger. This outrageous cost increase was in turn put as a line item on the budgets of other University Faculties, giving them the false impression VCA was living beyond its means. This system has been termed “morally unconscionable” by the former President of the VCA Council Noel Turnbull (see for more info).

SAVE VCA is concerned that VCA will never be safe financially under University management. It is critical any new funding VCA attracts is be tied to VCA’s teaching program i.e. any new funds must not be siphoned back to the University via the “responsible division management” rentals and admin costs.

Page 7 “The [1998 Robinson VCA Curriculum] review suggested that students of the future would require a degree of ‘cultural literacy’ as well as professional skills, stating that ‘it is not enough to be a gifted technician’. The review expressed the importance for artists of having a breadth of cultural knowledge and cultural understanding.

It is highly concerning the University is attempting to use the findings of the 1998 Review as a justification for “breadth” aka the Melbourne Model. This argument was also pushed by Acting Vice Chancellor John Dewar in his interview with ABC774’s Jon Faine on 23 July 2010, where he confirmed the Melbourne Model is still very much a possibility for VCA (hear the audio via Facebook).

The University practice of taking selective quotes out of a Review that is over a decade old, written by an author who is on the public record pushing for the opposite of the Melbourne Model style of education for artists, is concerning.

For instance in a presentation given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2007, he had this to say about Universities managing art education:

“You were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician; don’t do art, you’re not going to be an artist. Benign advice now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution.

And the second is, academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way.”

Watch the whole Sir Ken Robinson presentation here – note the video will skip straight to the above quote).

Page 7 “The review panel proposed that the VCA School of Music and the Faculty of Music consider forming a single School of Music. Consequently, in 2008 the VCA Integration Committee unanimously endorsed a merger of the two Faculties to facilitate the creation of the new school, a decision subsequently approved by the University Council.”

The assertion that the merger of VCA Music and UoM Music was a smooth, unanimously endorsed process is a complete fallacy. For instance, The Age revealed former VCA Dean Andrea Hull had sent a frustrated email to staff alerting them the Music merger was precipitating far greater and unexpected “compromises” including UoM Music Board’s attempt to have the VCA name and brand abolished (The Age 19/05/08).

On the other side of the merger, the UoM Staff also attempted to halt the merger:

  • 7 May 2008. The Faculty of Music unanimously adopted a resolution expressing its dismay at the hasty way the merger was being planned, noting that no business plan had been developed. This is the first sentence of the resolution as minuted: Resolution concerning the future of the Faculty of Music: The Faculty of Music communicates through this resolution its disappointment and opposition to the Recommendation to be put to the University Council on 12 May 2008 concerning the proposed new faculty encompassing the University’s programs in music, visual and performing arts to be known as the “Faculty of the VCA and Music”.
  • 8 May 2008. Staff of the Faculty of Music petitioned Council to delay making a decision in the absence of a business plan.
  • 9 May 2008. VC sends Academic Board president Pip Pattison down to the Faculty of Music to appease UoM Music staff concerns despite getting a very strong message that staff were not in support of merger.
  • 12 May 2008. Council receives petition from the Faculty, but proceeds anyway, calling the merger “a matter of urgency”. (n.b. Council standing rules state that Council cannot act on a matter about which it has been petitioned until the following Council meeting, except when it is considered a matter of urgency”)

The VCAM music staff and students have serious concerns in regards to the post-merger Music program (click here for more info).

As a point of interest, this latest merger has been the third attempt over a twenty year period (previous Vice Chancellors Penington and Gilbert had also tried to implement an amalgamation).

Page 9 “The Faculty of the VCA and Music’s different disciplines have strong links to the broader arts community in Melbourne, the region and internationally.

The primary purposes of higher education in the arts are to prepare artists to enter the arts professions, to support the continuing education of professional artists and to conduct arts research. An important relationship naturally exists between the Faculty and the arts community.”

In the Review Response, the University does not acknowledge the severe damage it has done to VCA’s brand both nationally and internationally. It also does not acknowledge how the University’s tenure has (deliberately or otherwise) cut ties to industry, by failing to acknowledge the integral role arts business has always played in VCA’s success. For instance, when the University cut Puppetry and Music Theatre at VCA, both industries found out through the media – having had no advance warning their graduate supply would suddenly cease.

Similarly, sessional staff (guest teachers coming to VCA from the industry) have been halved in some disciplines. Not only does this action not recognize the value of the knowledge these teachers bring to VCA, but also it cuts off student links to industry (and thus their ability to “enter the arts professions” aka get a job).

There is no mention of any strategy to repair the damage done despite the University’s apparent awareness of it:

ABC774’s 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.

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

(hear the full clip here)

Page 13 “Going into the future, the Faculty’s curriculum will continue to be practical, intensive, and studio-based, especially at the Southbank campus, and consistently designed to a high standard across the Faculty.”

Whilst this statement is reassuring for Drama, Dance, Production, Fim & TV, Art and hopefully Puppetry and Music Theatre, the acknowledgement Music will continue to be allowed to be less intensive is not a positive outcome and contradicts the opinions of the over 300 public submissions to the Review and the opinions expressed by through the student forums directly to Review Chair Ziggy Switzkowski.

Page 13 “The University has recently reviewed the breadth study requirements for all undergraduate students. Students will now be required to take 50 points of breadth studies out of their total three-year load of 300 points (revised down from 75 points).”

SAVE VCA maintains the Melbourne Model must never came to VCA in any form. SAVE VCA also wants to see the return of a non-Melbourne Model Music degree.

It’s interesting to note that the new lowering of the Melbourne Model breadth requirement to 16.67% of a student’s study load is getting closer to the existing VCA Centre for Ideas common curriculum requirement of 12.5%. As such, the continued insistence by the University to include the Melbourne Model as an option for VCA in the forthcoming 2010 Curriculum Review might point to a plan to replace the Centre for Ideas with the Melbourne Model.

Again, any such plan would be in stark contrast to the public submissions and student forums completed for the VCAM Review, which overwhelming favoured intensive training in specialised areas over compulsory non-VCAM breadth.

The VCAM Music Melbourne Model has been an example of the failure the paradigm has been for students wanting to become professional artists (click here for more info).

Page 15 “Of the Faculty’s current 416 undergraduate music subjects, 184 are available as breadth subjects for students from other degrees who are able to fulfill individual subject prerequisites. The Centre for Ideas on the Southbank campus offers the breadth subject Poetics of the Body, available to all University of Melbourne students.”

This fact has not been widely acknowledge to date i.e. VCAM Management is already using the Melbourne Model as an income stream for VCAM.

Page 17 “The University will suspend the proposed introduction of the Melbourne Model for the Southbank campus based programs in art, dance, drama, production and film and television.

The University will establish a Curriculum Review for the Faculty. The University Provost or his nominee, with significant input from the Dean, the Director of the VCA and Director of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, will lead the Review. The review process will proceed as soon as practical and will deliver a final report by the end of 2010. Implementation of the report’s recommendations will begin in 2011.”

“The review process will consider a range of possible curriculum models, including the Melbourne Model.”

“in the case of the New Generation Bachelor of Music degree, which is an integral part of the offerings available to all University of Melbourne students, the review will acknowledge and build on the existing work of the School.”

SAVE VCA is concerned that the flawed processes of the first VCAM Review may be carried forward to the new Curriculum Review.

For more information on why the first Review was flawed see:

SAVE VCA believe the Melbourne Model should once and for all be taken off the table in regards to VCA. It is highly concerning that on ABC Radio and ABC TV Acting Vice Chancellor John Dewar is still selling the Melbourne Model as a viable option for VCA.

SAVE VCA would argue the Music courses are, of all the VCAM courses, the most in need of urgent action, and should be included in any Curriculum Review. Read more about staff and student concerns about VCAM Music here.

Page 18 “The University Provost or his nominee will lead the Faculty of the VCA and Music Curriculum Review. The Review will include members from the Faculty, students, a University of Melbourne curriculum expert, and external arts-education and arts industry experts. The Provost or his nominee will chair the Review and conduct the consultation process. The Provost will work closely with the Dean, the Director of the VCA and the Director of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. The Review may consult with relevant practitioners and industries, and draw on other external expertise, at the Provost’s discretion.”

SAVE VCA completely rejects any Curriculum Review that is not 100% independent of the University. The current VCAM Review was often times ludicrous in its bias and unprofessionalism. It is a complete waste of time and money to now do a Curriculum Review if the same mistakes will be made. If this style of biased Review proceeds, it can only be presumed to be another University stalling tactic.

The fact the word “may” is used in relation to consulting industry does not give any comfort the University will consult the arts industries when revising curriculum or course availability.

Page 21 “The University of Melbourne welcomes the recommendation to continue with a single Faculty. The University believes that significant progress has already been made in establishing a relatively new faculty and that this work can be built upon to achieve a more dynamic, innovative and sustainable model for the Faculty’s visual and performing arts disciplines.”

It is not surprising the University wants to keep VCA and University of Melbourne Music merged. The University was never going to endorse any kind of demerger as it would be an acknowledgement of the severe failure of their tenure as VCA’s caretaker. Any demerge would also likely see the University lose ownership of VCA’s considerable assets that were gifted to the University by the Victorian State Government in 2007 (valued at $103m for non-land items alone).

SAVE VCA maintains the current structure has failed. The suggested options in order of preference are:

  1. VCA (including VCA Music) become an independent cultural institution funded through the Federal Arts Ministry like NIDA and AFTRS.
  2. VCA (including VCA Music) return to its pre-2007 status of being an affiliate of the University.
  3. VCA (including VCA Music) return to its pre-2009 status as its own Faculty, however on strict conditions that include financial and curriculum independence.

SAVE VCA advocates that choice should be returned to music students, with University of Melbourne Music restored as a stand-alone Faculty (Melbourne Model based) with VCA Music (non-Melbourne Model) returning to the VCA fold.

Page 21 “The University accepts the recommendation to establish two discrete academic units within the Faculty of the VCA and Music. In the short term, these academic units [in this paper termed ‘divisions’ in order to be congruent with terminology used in the Report] will be named according to their historical origins as the VCA (encompassing Art, Performing Arts, Film and Television) and the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (encompassing Music from both Parkville and Southbank campuses).”

Page 3 “The Parkville and Southbank music programs will become one school called the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. Institutional names may be reviewed in the future.”

The rationale for this recommendation was never made clear in the Switzkowski Review Report and remains so. Why Music is not an ‘art’ (and thus cannot be part of VCA) is odd. Similarly, the current two-campus model has serious logistical problems that were illustrated by students throughout the Review process.

One explanation is that the University is using Music to engrain itself at Southbank. For instance on 25/11/08 The Age reported the University of Melbourne’s attempt to dissolve ANAM (Australian National Academy of Music) to replace it with an Australian Institute of Music Performance noting the “new institute will be located at Southbank at the VCA at the merged Melbourne School of Music as part of a long-term aim to build a new conservatorium with easy access to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.”

The University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Arts “Institute of Art History” gave a public presentation at the 2009 Art Association of Australian And NZ Conference suggesting they would be given access to “University real estate in Southbank,” displaying a picture of the VCA Elisabeth Murdoch Building. Clearly there are plans for VCA’s property in place.

Page 22 “In the case of the VCA, the Director’s position will initially be filled by one of the existing VCA school heads. The Provost will make this appointment, in a manner consistent with normal University practice, after consulting with the school heads. At least to begin with, this Director will be titled the Director of the VCA. In the case of Music, the existing Head of School will serve as Director and Music will cease to have a separate head of school.”

Again we see an unwillingness to allow staff, students and the arts community to have input into senior appointments at VCA.

Page 22 “This should not lead to a return to the duplication of classical music courses as experienced in the past, but will necessitate extensive collaboration between the two divisions to meet educational goals.”

SAVE VCA completely rejects that VCA Music and UoM Melbourne duplicated each other in the past.

The two Schools had different and complimentary approaches to teaching Music (the most obvious being that UoM Music was Melbourne Model based). VCA Music was primarily focused on performance whilst UoM Music had a strong research element (emphasized by the UoM Music staff who wrote to The Age in December 2009)

Page 23 “The School average expenditure per EFTSL [Equivalent Full Time Student Load] is currently $24,000, comprised of direct staffing costs of $9,000, with non-staff, property and Faculty central costs of $15,000.”

“In 2010, the government and student contribution for each Commonwealth-supported student place in the visual and performing arts is $15,972.”

A staggering 94% of the per-student Government funds coming to VCA are spent on “non-staff, property and Faculty central costs,” which is 167% more than what is spent on direct staffing costs. VCA simply cannot financially survive being part of the University unless it is quarantined from the ‘Responsible Division Management’ central costing system OR VCA is compensated for the asset windfall the University enjoyed upon merger, and the rental terms are adjusted.

SAVE VCA note that no comparison is supplied in the University’s Review Response with premerger finances.

Of the figures that are available (as UoM stopped making VCA’s finances public), SAVE VCA know that in the last year before the Federal Funding cut (2004), VCA’s total expenditure was $26.693m compared to the $39m in 2010 (University Review Response, page 23).

Page 23 “During 2009, the Faculty had an average student to staff ratio of 9.7 to 1, and the current student to staff ratio approximately 10.6 to 1.”

These figures contradict the 2010 Business Plan, which suggested “The current student to academic staff ratio (of 7.4 students to 1 academic staff member) is not sustainable. A more sustainable student to academic staff ratio is 12 to 1 which is similar to other intensively delivered programs at the University e.g. Veterinary Science”

Page 23/25 “All the disciplines (with the exception of the School of Music) appear to have a lower student to staff ratio than similar Australian and international higher education arts institutions. The School of Art has a ratio 16 to 1, the Sydney College of the Arts 20 to 1, the College of Fine Arts at the University of NSW has 19.2 to 1, and the Edinburgh College of Art has 17.1 to 1

The Faculty’s School of Performing Arts currently has a ratio of 12 to 1. Internationally, the Dartington College of the Arts in the UK has 13.8 to 1. In 2009, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama had a ratio of 18.75 to 1, and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama had a ratio of 15 to 1.

Note the University has not provided any comparisons to VCA’s natural peers such as NIDA, WAAPA or AFTRS.

It is highly concerning that the University’s Review Response is reading very much like the 2010 Business Plan, which painted VCA as a school overrun by staff. In reality, VCAM lost 8% of staff body in 2009 (the percentage loss amongst sessional teachers was much higher), and staffing in some areas is critically low (e.g. Music technical support staff).

Page 25 “The Faculty had a total projected direct operating expenditure of $39 million. This expenditure comprised of $30 million direct expenditure on both salary and non-salary costs, as well as $9 million on property costs. The property charge is a contribution to the maintenance and upgrade costs associated with the Faculty’s accommodation.

This produced a deficit of $6 million before the Faculty contributed to central University overheads and administration, as all faculties in the University do. These University overheads go towards funding the common services for the University and include student recruitment and admissions IT, staff recruitment and other HR services, finance and accounting, commercialisation, maintenance and improvements, parking, amenities and other student services, and strategic initiatives. The current required contribution of the Faculty to these common overheads is $13 million, leaving a projected deficit of $18 million (after accounting for trust transfers and other ‘earned’ income of $1 million).”

Of the $52m the University asserts VCAM is costing for 2010, an incredible 42% ($22m) of it is spent on “property costs” and “central University overheads and administration”. By comparison, in 2006 VCA’s administration costs were $11.7m.

Whilst SAVE VCA does not deny the centralization of costs is a well-known accounting principle, it is obvious that upon merging VCA and University of Melbourne, the Victorian State Govt never envisaged a $5m shortfall would blowout into a $18m shortfall simply due to the creation of VCAM. Furthermore, the lack of any compensation to VCA from the University due to the merger asset windfall ($103m) makes the whole notion of “subsidy” misleading.

SAVE VCA is extremely concerned that according to the University, VCA would need to attract another $19m p/a of funding to break even, none of which would go directly to teaching programs. This level of new funding is extremely unlikely and casts into doubt whether VCA can afford to remain a Faculty of the University.

Page 27 “the University expects each of its faculties to develop and implement detailed business plans that demonstrate the capacity, within a reasonable period of time, to operate viably within the quantum of funding available.”

There is absolutely no way VCA would continue to exist if it had to cut $18-19m from its annual budget to be able to meet all of its imposed obligations to the University, nor should it have to. The fact remains that VCA has gone from a $6m shortfall to an $18-19m shortfall under University management.

The blind pursuit of a balanced budget was what led former Dean Sharman Pretty to propose ludicrous cost cutting measures such as making Film & TV students make films in pairs, which Adam Elliot (Oscar recipient and VCA Grad) likened to making painting students share a canvas. The continuation of this economic rationalist policy is very concerning.

Because there has been no significant shift in the University’s thinking, demerger remains the most obvious financial option for VCA.

Page 27 “During the period required to develop and implement this revised business strategy properly, the University will be willing to extend transitional cross subsidy support for a fixed term at a level that will safeguard the delivery of core academic programs where there is a demonstrated need to do so. As with other faculties, the University will expect that the Faculty and its divisions will take all reasonable steps to reduce the level and duration of transitional funding required. The University agrees with the recommendation to maintain a high-contact studio- based teaching model. In developing its business plan the Faculty and the VCA will need to work towards identifying and implementing a sustainable mode of delivery of this model.”

The lack of specificity for how long the “subsidy” will continue and the push for budget cuts to get rid of the subsidy, highlights the University is taking first and foremost a budgetary approach to VCA. There is no acknowledgement that at the current rate of subsidy, VCA would need a miracle ($18-19m in new funds a year) OR to strip courses in order to break even. This approach is not only unrealistic, but it adds to the uncertainly surrounding VCA, further damaging the College’s ability to generate new funds (such as a attracting full fee paying students).

Page 29 “The University will review the arrangements for assigning property, and the rate of property charges, for the Faculty’s Southbank campus.”

This is welcome as clearly the charges to VCA are well out of proportion to the actual running costs pre-merger. SAVE VCA would expect this review to include compensation for the merger asset windfall, and a refund for all over-charging to date.

Page 29 “Because the current financial situation facing the Faculty has increasingly serious implications for the rest of the University, there is a need for close University oversight of the Faculty’s finances during the transitional period in which a sustainable budget is being achieved.”

The suggestion of greater University influence in the VCAM budget is concerning as only elite art education specialists are equipped to know the full repercussions of budgetary changes.

The University’s desire for greater financial transparency from VCA, is also not matched by greater financial transparency in regards to the University’s financial management of VCAM.

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