Cuts to staff of Waikato University music school opposed

Pressure is mounting to save three jobs from a financially under-performing university music programme as supporters prepare to protest.

In a rare move the University of Waikato has released the finances of the music programme showing it costs more than $1.5 million a year yet it does not produce enough income to help cover overall university costs.

But supporters say a proposal to cut three lecturers from the course, which is already reduced to eight full-timers, could spell the end of the programme which is widely regarded as one of the best in the country.

On Tuesday the group, Save the Waikato Conservatorium of Music, has been given five minutes to present its case to the university’s council, including chancellor Jim Bolger, after a protest to be staged at the university in Hamilton.

Speaker Jamie Strange, the Hamilton East Labour candidate and music teacher at Berkley Intermediate School, said a large group of people in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty were very worried the job cuts could spell the end of the music school.

“The danger is once you lose them, then it’s very hard to replace,” Strange said.

The proposal by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Acting Dean Professor Allison Kirkman was to originally cut 17 full-time equivalent jobs from the faculty which includes the music school where about 80 students study each year.

It follows about 15 job cuts in the education faculty last year and others in management.

Last week university Vice-Chancellor Neil Quigley released detailed information around the programme’s finances to address the many submissions made against the proposal. It showed;

• enrolments in music had fallen by 28 per cent between 2013-2016

• only seven international students were enrolled in music last year

• music should have contributed $1.9m over the past three years to the university’s running costs

• the university bought musical instruments worth $759,000 but with depreciation their current book value is $327,000

• total programme operating costs for the three years from 2014 to 2016 were $4.81m

• the allocation of scholarships to music students was three times the level of the university average

• lecturers did not earn enough income through research and music’s record of attracting domestic and international students was poorer than average

• the international standing for performing arts at the university was low compared with that of other disciplines.

Quigley said the special status of music did not make it exempt from the same operational and financial requirements as the other disciplines.

But a former Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University, Bryan Gould, told the Herald that although it was more expensive to teach music, there was a huge benefit to the university to do so.

“It is music that brings people on to campus and that gives them some understanding of what a university is really about – not just a machine for churning out job tickets but a source of shared enjoyment and the exploration of the further reaches of human learning and experience.

“If all you ever did was teach the cheapest courses you wouldn’t be a university.”

Gould, who led the university between 1994 and 2004, said if three positions were cut it would “really handicap the whole opportunity you have to provide viable courses and attract people to the university to study music”.

He said there was a legitimate case for claiming Waikato had the best music department in the country among the university sector.

Students from all over the country study at the school because of its reputation and many have gone on to win major awards and have internationally successful careers.

There was also concern for the survival of the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts with its music chamber which was largely funded by public donations, and a $2m grant from Hamilton City Council, if the music programme stagnated.

Thousands signed a petition against the job cuts in April.

Strange said the situation had wider implications for the value of arts in education.

“Should we value the arts? Should we value music? What does music bring to society? For me as a music teacher the students I’m teaching aged 11, 12, 13, music brings creativity, confidence, co-operation.

“Those are all life skills and those are all skills that employers would want.”

The protest will begin at 9.45am on Tuesday at the Gallagher Academy on campus and members of the public are invited to join in.

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