Australia has a broad spectrum of music education and training opportunities available at post-secondary level. Beyond the array of institutions which base their training on traditional Western music is a growing number of music institutions which are breaking new ground in music training at tertiary level. Among the early departures from traditional training was the then Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education (NRCAE) School of the Arts which in 1984 chose to specialise in contemporary popular music at the expense of all other forms. It is now part of Southern Cross University,1 and continues to specialise in contemporary music. Only one other institution – the Gold Coast campus of Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (QCGU)2 – offers popular music forms exclusively. Even so, each is different – the QCGU campus taking advantage of being located among the multimedia training facilities, and the SCU music program continuing to offer a broad-based approach to contemporary music forms.

Following this lead, a number of music institutions in both university and Technical and Further Education (TAFE)3 sectors have added popular music, music technology, and world music to their list of programs, giving students a wide variety of choice which is less common among European universities and conservatoria. In Europe and the UK, specialist programs in popular music are more likely to be found in non-government self-proclaimed ‘fame’ academies like the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA).4


In Australia, the lines between vocational conservatorium training and university education began to blur once the 1988 Higher Education Review (Dawkins 1988) required all conservatoria to relocate into the university sector. Concurrent expansion among private institutions, most of which also offer university awards, together with changes in the TAFE sector, have shifted the boundaries even more.

In this country, not all professional music education and training occurs within the university sector. A parallel development of Vocational Education and Training (VET)5 packages in the TAFE sector via a framework of certificates and diplomas intends to facilitate mobility within and between sectors, and link directly to industry. This framework allows progression from secondary education to industry in a variety of permutations. It is possible for school students to commence units from VET or university awards whilst still at school, promoting ease of transition into tertiary study. Because of this, some universities have become dual-sector providers, offering articulation for selected senior secondary and TAFE students to cross-enrol and articulate into university music programs. Riding the same wave of opportunity, some secondary schools have seized the opportunity to offer VET awards. Under the Australian Qualifications Framework, the Federal Government has the power to mandate articulation between the sectors, although it has yet to do so. Such developments place Australian music institutions ahead of their European forerunners in the potential for articulation.


Details of these possible permutations may be found in Sounds Australian Issue No.64 (2004).6 This issue of the Journal of the Australian Music Centre was dedicated to post-secondary options and issues in music education. It surveyed all post-secondary music training and education institutions from the university, TAFE and private sectors. It was an extensive survey, covering a range of issues which are relevant across the post-secondary music sector. It followed a smaller survey also published in Sounds Australian (No.60, 2002),7 which detailed the responses from a small percentage of music institutions, only from the university sector. In the editorial to Issue No.64 (2004),8 the author outlines the broad range of options available, comparing them to those measured by the previous survey in 2002. Placing the Australian post-secondary music in context against the European sector from which Australian music education originally emerged, she also notes issues relative to resourcing the evolving changes.

The 2004 survey confirmed a diverse collection of awards among the post-secondary music institutions and a range of diploma, associate diploma and advanced diploma packages in the TAFE sector covering specialisations in Music Industry (Business/Technical Production), Composition, Entertainment and various genres of Performance. It covers issues of evolving technology and delivery of programs, collaboration between institutions and across artforms within institutions. It examines the impact of research on music institutions which reside within universities. There is a growing trend among these institutions to develop postgraduate research awards which are non-traditional in nature. The notion of performance as research has been embraced by a significant number of Australian institutions. The range of possible postgraduate research options is detailed in a special edition of Real Time + OnScreen (No.68, August-September 2005).

There were 100 questions in the 2004 survey, resulting in a valuable database of statistics across a diversity of issues. The Journal highlights the primary issues, and the data are available to those who seek further detail.

Graduate Placement

In another special edition, Real Time + OnScreen (No.44, August-September 2001) canvases the nexus between university training in the arts and industry needs. Michael Hannan’s seminal book,9 is another valuable resource in determining possible graduate destinations, and the links between them and available training.


Helen Lancaster Last updated: 28 May 2007.


  9. Hannan, Michael. The Australian Guide to Careers in Music (Music Council of Australia, 2003)↩︎

Dr. Helen Lancaster offers advisory services to higher music education institutions, music teachers and arts organisations. She is a former Chair of the Music Council of Australia, and a Research Fellow at Queensland Conservatorium of Music. For the MCA she established the National Instrument Bank in 2008, and the Australian Youth Music Council in 2009. With a team of distinguished researchers, she undertook the audit of Post-Secondary Music Education and Training published with further analysis in this knowledge base as Music Study in Australia.

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *