Firstly it should be said VCA remains a world-class institution, and is still the only college in Australia to offer all the arts forms on one campus – a qualification that is indeed rare globally. The vocal defense of VCA that began in 2009 is testament to the great work of the institution and its importance to the Australian arts economy.
However, the 2007 merger with University of Melbourne (UoM) has put VCA under great strain.
In short, the SAVE VCA campaign was born out of four key and ongoing areas of concern:
(1) Opposition to the University of Melbourne’s implementation of the ‘Melbourne Model’ course structure to VCA. The Melbourne Model dilutes the time available to VCA students to enjoy intensive, specialised studio training, as 25% of an undergraduate degree must come from outside ones degree program. Students are encouraged to stay at University longer like in the US system (3 years undergraduate study followed by 2 years post graduate study). VCAM Music is now under the Melbourne Model as a result of the merger, with the other courses slated to be converted to Melbourne Model in 2012 (although thankfully this is now pending the results of the UoM VCAM Review process).
(2) Evidence that the merger with UoM is having a significant and immediate impact upon VCA’s ability to educate its students to its usual standard. This includes:
- the crippling UoM rental system (which was not part of the Heads of Agreement upon merger) sees VCA paying upwards of $6m p/a rent for facilities it owned pre-merger;
- loss of staff, starting with 12 losing their jobs in April 2009 which continues to grow due to various reasons including the UoM “Responsible Division Management” scheme (which leaves only 3% of VCA staff in “unchanged” positions), the Voluntary Redundancy Scheme (which saw 20% of the academic staff in the Music school alone resign, Crikey 15/12/09), the Early and Phased Retirement Schemes (figures still not made public by UoM) and growing staff dissatisfaction, with a survey of a quarter of VCA staff showing 40% are actively looking to leave VCA within a year. The UoM VCAM Review report confirmed VCAM lost 8% of staff in 2009 alone.
- reduction in course choice, including the axing of VCA Puppetry and Music Theatre without warning or consultation. VCA Film & TV Visual Effects and Documentary have also been “suspended”.
- damage to VCA’s reputation to the point where other institutions are advertising the changes to VCA as a reason not to apply for VCA.
new non-talent based entry requirements, including the requirement to have a VCE (or equivalent).
(3) Concern VCA and UoM Management are not listening to the arts industry. In the Australian (05/06/09) the new VCAM Dean Sharman Pretty suggested VCA is “siloed in its programs, it’s siloed in its narrow little degree programs….Producing elite dancers that only become ballet dancers, or actors that only act, is no longer appropriate in Australia.” This view created great unease in the arts community about whether VCA would continue to deliver the highly specialised and intense training required for emerging artists and whether the Dean’s ethos was compatible with what students and the industry wanted. Indeed on ABC774 Radio Geoffrey Rush asserted that the Dean’s views were “starting education from a point of mediocrity” (07/08/09).
(4) Evidence UoM management of VCA is costing Australia jobs. VCA’s contribution to the arts economy has been seriously underestimated by UoM and is already costing jobs. For example, UoM cut VCA Puppetry in 2009 without any regard for the desperate need for graduates from companies such as The Creature Technology Company (creators of Walking With Dinosaurs), which already has 14 VCA Puppetry grads on payroll, and needs another 60 for its New York production of King Kong Live (The Age 19/09/09).
The above difficulties have been compounded by two further factors:
VCA is chronically underfunded and has had to operate within the Education Ministry. Since the Howard Government cut VCA’s funding by 35% in 2005, VCA’s financial position became dire and forced the shotgun marriage with the University of Melbourne. The current Rudd Government has so far refused to consider VCA for Arts Ministry funding via the Roundtable program (like the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney enjoys). By comparison in 2008, the federal funding of the Teaching Program at NIDA was $17,510 per student (p 46, NIDA Annual Report 07/08) and the federal funding of the Teaching Program at VCAM was $9,560 (presentation by the Vice Chancellor, 25 August 2009).
- The State and Federal Government have failed to enforce mechanisms that should have protected VCA. Although the Heads of Agreement which merged VCA and UoM has been breached on multiple fronts, the Victorian State government has to date failed to bring UoM to account. This is compounded by the Federal Education and Arts Ministries ignoring Victoria State Government calls for VCA to be funded like NIDA. The VCA Discussion Paper released by UoM in November 2009 has no Government involvement whatsoever.
For a more detailed explanation of what is happening at VCA, click here.