The Victorian College of the Arts faces a deeply uncertain future as Melbourne University makes swinging cuts to courses and jobs there.
Earlier this month Crikey’s Luke Buckmaster reported that jobs were slashed, writing:
In its first month the VCAM have let go at least 12 casual professional staff, moved others to different employee agreements and implemented a hiring freeze. A new announcement in the next fortnight is expected to include further staff and course cuts.
“It’s pretty evident the university is ready to slash and burn,” says Alison Hose of the Victorian College of the Arts Student Union, which permanently closes in June due to a lack of funding. “Staff are extremely concerned and everyone is walking around looking panic stricken about their jobs at the moment.”
And as Robin Usher reported today in The Age, the School of Puppetry will be “suspended” in a plan that will ultimately see the VCA amalgamate the existing six schools into three or even two.
Students are so concerned they have set up a website, on which they have posted a leaked business plan which outlines the university’s intentions to cut 11 million in funding from the VCA and implement the controversial “Melbourne model” course structure:
The Dean of the VCA, Professor Sharman Pretty, is a highly polarising figure who has prior “form” in forced amalgamations of university courses. Her tenure at Auckland University saw her described as a “chainsaw” and led to staff and student protests after the unhappy departure of distinguished Yale architecture Professor Peggy Deamer. Staff and students told Chris Barton at the New Zealand Herald of a “climate of fear”, a “climate of cynicism”, a “climate of asphyxiation” and a “toxic environment”. Before that, professor Pretty was involved in a restructure at the Sydney Conservatorium.
The VCA’s problems stem from its long-term underfunding by the federal Education department. Institutions like the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) and the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) are funded by Peter Garrett’s Arts portfolio and receive much higher funding levels per student than Education-funded institutions like VCA. Addressing this mismatch in funding levels was a recommendation of Terry Cutler’s Innovation report, Venturous Australia, released last year, but so far Julia Gillard’s Education department has yet to come to the party.
The result of the VCA’s funding problems was a shotgun marriage with Melbourne University in 2007. Under Professor Pretty, the University is now implementing savage cost-cuts to make the newly-named VCA “sustainable,” but it looks very much as much of the unique character of the VCA will be lost in the process.
The Puppetry School, for instance, is the only school of its type in the Southern Hemisphere, and it is not at all clear that demand will exist for expensive post-graduate courses in the new model. After all, even successful VCA graduates often go on to risky and impoverished careers in the performing and fine arts.
As student Alison Hope told The Age, “the fear is that no actor or dancer will be able to pay the post-grad fees. It’s not as if they earn the equivalent of doctors or engineers.”
But Deans of universities do, which is perhaps why the indefatigable Sharman Pretty seems determined to cut and slash her way through the third controversial academic restructure of her career.