In June, the Federal Government announced a new fee structure for university degrees that will see a 113% rise in the cost of humanities courses. By contrast, fees for priority courses will drop by as much as 62% in agriculture and maths, 46% for teaching and nursing, and 20% for science, health and IT degrees. It all comes as part of a package of changes that the government believes will best position future graduates for a changing jobs market.
To take effect in 2021 for newly enrolling students, the changes will mean that a three-year humanities degree will more than double from a present figure of around $20,000 to $43,500. Many will be wondering how music studies at university level will be affected, and whether costs can also be expected to rise for Bachelor of Music degrees in performance, composition, education, audio production, musicology and other areas. In his National Press Club address, Minister for Education Dan Tehan did not go into such details.
However, it does seem certain that the 113% increase will apply to all music degrees, as also to arts degrees with specialisations in music. This is the understanding of Dr Renée Crawford, Director of Graduate Research at Monash University’s Faculty of Education. She has written about the new university fee structure and what it represents for arts-based education in for future generations of Australians: see her essay in Monash Lens here.
Here, Crawford speaks further about the implications of these fee increases and what they will mean for music.
Will the cost of B.Mus, B.Mus.Ed, B.A in Music and other such degrees all rise by this amount? Will Masters degrees be similarly affected?
“We can expect to see an increase of 113% for humanities degrees across the board. It is anticipated that this will have dire consequences for the cost of B.Mus, B.Mus.Ed, B.A, BA.Ed and other such degrees at all levels.”
Are the changes likely to result in a reduction in student enrolments? Might this also flow onto staff reductions at university music departments and conservatoriums?
“At this stage we cannot assume that the increased cost of degrees won’t change student enrolment behaviour and in fact could result in a situation where low-income students would be more sensitive to the debt burden. We have seen the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education sector and in particular higher education. This new fee structure could result in further staff reductions if student enrolments are not supported by appropriate government measures.
Having said that, while there might be a brief reduction in applications for higher priced courses, historical examples (although not in the current climate) indicate that demand would return after the initial shock and there would be no observable impact in the medium-term. In turn, course choices closely reflect student interests. It is appropriate to suggest that students are not going to commit to pursuing study that does not motivate or stimulate their learning simply because a course is cheaper. However, in the case of Music, the Arts and humanities, such amplification of degree costs sends a clear message that the government devalues or does not understand the value of these disciplines and places an unnecessary burden on students who wish to pursue studies in these discipline areas.”
How serious are we to view this?
“I echo the sentiments of many academics and educators who are concerned that the increase in humanities degrees sends confusing messages about the relative value of some disciplines and degrees that may be perceived to be more valuable or important than others. It is incredibly short sighted and narrow minded to discount the value of the Arts and humanities. This is particularly true with consideration to the intrinsic and extrinsic attributes that are embedded in such disciplines. Curriculum and policy documents in Australia and internationally are littered with the importance of developing 21st century skills and knowledge, such as, creative and critical thinking, intercultural competence and socially inclusive behaviours.
A holistic education that develops such skills and knowledge cannot be achieved without the inclusion of vital Arts and humanities disciplines. The government cannot understate that the Arts and humanities contribute to critical jobs for the future. Likewise, the flow on effect of this can be seen in the recent announcement of the NSW government regarding their curriculum review and reform, which is to reduce non-essential learning and compliance requirements. While this might be required due to the crowded curriculum, there needs to be a reconsideration of what is considered essential or non-essential learning. This is crucial if educating towards holistic learning and recognising that not all students learn in the same ways or have the same interests. Fostering these differences will not only motivate and stimulate student learning, but provide avenues for all students to achieve and experience success in their education. Thinking seriously about what we teach, how and why will contribute positively to a society that educates for a future that values diverse thinking and skill sets.”