Opening Statement

The Tertiary Music Sector in Australia is quite diverse and covers a broad range of institutional models and locations. During the past 30 years, with the increasing access to tertiary education, and government policy changes including the higher priorities placed on international students, the re-definition of research versus fee-paying coursework postgraduate programs, and community interface, tertiary music schools have needed to cope with increasingly complex demands. Furthermore, with the extension of degree-granting approvals to include various types of post-secondary school institutions including private providers and the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, the overall picture for tertiary music is quite complex.

NACTMUS is the national peak body which seeks to represent all such institutions, but traditionally it has comprised the universities, some of which include the ‘state’ conservatoria and their former regional campuses. The broadening of membership in recent years to include both private providers and institutions from the TAFE sector is a trend which will continue. However at this stage the majority of NACTMUS’ membership remains with the university sector.

Please note: There has been a significant amount of research and commentary dealing with the tertiary sector published in the MCA’s own Music Forum , which should be also taken into account, in addition to the NACTMUS response outlined below. In particular, the articles by Helen Lancaster, Michael Hannan and Rafaelle Marcellino published since 2001 are very useful in providing background and insights to issues in Australian tertiary music.

Furthermore, NACTMUS recently presented (July 2007) a conference focusing on topics and issues of relevance to the MCA’s current call for responses. The Proceedings of this Conference – Music in Australian Tertiary Institutions: Issues for the 21st Century – are to be found online.

The previous NACTMUS Conference which took place in July 2001 – Creating Musical Futures: Challenges to Music Education in the 21st Century – addressed similar issues, and can also be found online.

Therefore rather than providing a full literature survey as the basis for this response, NACTMUS invites those within MCA to access these resources and cite them as appropriate.


NACTMUS held its first General Meeting for 2008 in mid February, and the following format was used which proved most productive. Rather than delineating each of the SWOT headings at the outset, the topics covered followed the PESTEL format: Political / Economic / Socio-Cultural / Technological / Environmental / Legislative. This summary is an attempt to draw the SWOT headings out of the points made. To assist those reviewing this material, a brief overview of the relative weighting in each of the SWOT categories is provided here:

Strengths – These comments clustered primarily in the socio-cultural and political domains, arising from the fact that music and music education are viewed as essential by many, yet the political will to implement and support longterm strategies needs a level of lobbying power that the tertiary sector is unable to provide single-handedly.

Weaknesses – Most observations were made in the political and economic areas, due to the fact that music and the education system which supports it is resource-intensive, and decision-making regarding provision of such resources is a loaded debate within academia, given the competing demands from the sciences, both laboratory-based and social.

Opportunities – Most comments here were again biased towards the political and the socio-cultural, in light of the fact that music is more universally available than ever before, and is embedded in an extremely diverse social framework. Hence there is an opportunity to draw upon such broadly based support to garner support for both professionally focused and generalist music tertiary programs.

Threats – There was no clear trend observed here, but evidence that tertiary music is vulnerable from a number of viewpoints, both within the discipline at large, in terms of its relation to academia overall, and increasingly in terms of compliance accountability and risk aversion.



Local / national penetration

  • Music is a big part of people’s lives, and represents a potentially large market.
  • Successes in tertiary music should be linked in with the communities served.
  • Tertiary music links naturally with various communities, most institutions have already successful examples of this.
  • Local government support as a result of community rallying should not be underestimated, despite tertiary education being federally funded and controlled.
  • Third stream funding as a result of knowledge transfer within communities is as yet untapped.

Links beyond (tertiary) music

  • There has been informal dialogue with other peak bodies, but more could be done – strength / support will be garnered by showing such links more explicitly.
  • Cultural policy work – tertiary institutions have the ability to contribute to the dialogue.

Lobbying potential

  • NACTMUS can have direct lobbying power with ministers.
  • Diversity could be a strength, and the membership is stronger when more broadly based frm various locations.
  • NACTMUS can undertake lobbying at a local level, but also be seen as part of a national body – this works both ways to our advantage.
  • The sector has potential to be tapping into its graduates in order to make the value of music more recognized.


Broader economy

  • Economic impact of the arts should not be underestimated, and therefore also the educational framework which supports the profession.
  • Higher education has tended to have a heavily vocational focus from the student perspective, something which can be celebrated providing graduate outcomes are not too narrowly focused on ‘elite’ notions of excellence or success.


Community impact

  • Community health and wellbeing are key societal agendas, and there is an opportunity for music to engage more fully due to its strength in this regard.
  • Music students / staff working in the community are of real benefit.
  • Non-tertiary programs supported by tertiary institutions reach well beyond degree programs, and show a creative use of time and space.
  • “Medicine saves people’s lives, Music make lives worth living” – a slogan worth adopting.

Community resource

  • Communities have high expectations for music schools, as sources of information, resources for musicians and creative work, etc.
  • Music students create important benefits for the community in which they reside while studying.
  • Tertiary arts organizations present many free or low cost events and maintain the venues that enable these to occur – these are key community resources.
  • Music is ideally placed as a community resource – tertiary institutions have expertise in research, performance, music therapy, collaboration, all of which are directly relevant to community needs.

Educational service

  • Students are studying because they have a passion for their art – the inherent value of music in its own right, as well as the generic skills that are cultivated, are aspects which should be acknowledged.
  • There is a need to identify what we do – education in general as well as training.
  • Life long impact of tertiary music training, for both the specialist and generalist / audience member.



  • This is the real context for learning and should be recognized – musicians are early adopters of technology.
  • Real time videoconferencing / distance learning – masterclasses, one on one lessons – access to and from regional areas, and also internationally.

Creative activity

  • Students routinely upload their own products and share with others as an increasingly natural form of dissemination.
  • Musicians have historically been early adopters of technology, and thus contribute to the agenda setting.


  • There are many successes to celebrate, and contributions to community, artistic life, general culture of the nation.


  • Music schools are part of the university quality audit process – this should be seen as a potential benefit, and a way of demonstrating value of the discipline within the academy and beyond.



Links beyond (tertiary) music

  • NACTMUS was not officially / initially at the table for the National Review of School Music Education (NRSME ), and should have been automatically included.
  • A dialogue or response from the Deans of Education was sought during the National Review to no avail.
  • The Deans of Arts & Social Sciences and Humanities (DASSH ) and the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools (ACUADS ) has regular formal meetings / conferences, and different levels of inclusion, compared with which NACTMUS is much less active.
  • Within the humanities, the Dean’s role includes that of defender of the discipline – this is however different in the music context where most tertiary music leaders are at the Head of School level or equivalent in terms of decision-making.

Politicisation of tertiary sector

  • Higher education massification has led to a more vocational focus from the student perspective.
  • The sector appears to be more reactive rather than proactive, given the rate of change of policy and the external context.
  • Government is forcing a change of thinking without necessarily being informed by disciplines such as music.
  • Public funding has been used as leverage, with ‘policy on the run’ with previous ministers leading to unintended consequences.


  • Where is music as an entity within a university – very few institutions ‘brand’ music explicitly or very prominently in their hierarchy of offerings.
  • Stratification of the sector is a political driver – distinguishing between Group of Eight and others, forcing a confusion of identity and processes for dialogue within and between institutions.
  • The discipline tends to be divided according to ‘sub-disciplines’, or lacking in identity due to co-habitation with cognate but different areas of study, leading to a weakening of the power base within the universities themselves.
  • There are overseas examples of other peak bodies recognizing strengths and excellence, whereas in Australia the status of the peak body for tertiary music is much less clear.



  • There is a mismatch of intensive nature of study versus funding levels – music is more akin to some of the health areas in terms of its needs, but is classed within a broad band of humanities and social sciences.
  • Universities can determine internal funding priorities, but most often institutions leave music at current levels along with arts, humanities etc.
  • Funding levels are problematic across the board, not just music – perhaps partners can be found to strengthen the case for reform in this area.
  • Sources of funding beyond federal budgets are often ‘soft’ or reliant on local context and niche opportunities.

‘Delivery models

  • The orchestral model within tertiary music can’t be taught in a standard classroom format – there is a lack of understanding of the diverse needs of tertiary music curriculum.
  • Quality of teaching delivery versus the numbers of students (one on one style instruction) is problematic when attempting to match weightings of course content with costs.
  • The concept of musicians being the product of years of one-on-one training is accepted at one level in society, but not necessarily supported for advanced tertiary training.


Roles of post-school sector

  • Education (higher education) vs training (TAFE level) – use of terms can be confusing.
  • Talented school age performers are not all choosing a music degree – current research is underway to examine why this is so.
  • Messages given to school age students about studying music and future careers can be counter-productive and destructive.


  • Essentialism versus discretionary status of music within the social hierarchy.
  • Funding / pedagogical issues affect the quality of delivery.


  • Marketing should be more than just alumni ‘high flyers’ – also the well-rounded musician.
  • Career pathways – tertiary institutions need to look at the ways these have been described to prospective students.
  • Community based music teachers – there is a drastic shortage in some areas, and tertiary music students do not always see this as a viable pathway.



  • Downloading music and ‘free’ access brings with it a range of issues including ownership, protocols for second and third generation (re)usage.
  • What constitutes core skills now and into the future, even as soon as 2010 is a constantly changing menu.
  • The current student lives and studies via technology and this is how they engage, and also can disengage from institutional frameworks.


  • The high cost of technology, both setting up and maintaining is an under-discussed issue, and should include both digital environment and also acoustic instruments / venue needs etc.
  • The maintenance of a quality music library has different needs again, and involves numerous aspects just to catch up and stay current, eg on-line reference materials.


Working contexts

  • Performance spaces are needed which are non-standard or not required by other disciplines.
  • Our tertiary institutional environment – is it conducive to creativity and aesthetic endeavour?
  • Acoustically developed areas are required and frequently under-resourced.


  • Musicians’ health & wellbeing is an under-recognised area of tertiary studies.
  • It is difficult to build a space that allows for personal development within a generic approach to institutional resourcing.

Non-tertiary contexts

  • Secondary schools – a critical impact on tertiary sector.


Potential litigation

  • Hearing impairment through lack of focus on the area of industrial noise and acoustic environment has traditionally not been a concern for tertiary institutions.
  • Students are becoming more litigious and questioning academic judgment eg assessing of performance.


  • Intellectual property and other legislative issues – there are nine jurisdictions in Australia to deal with on such issues.
  • Government / university – there is a limited understanding of the underpinning statutes and governance that frame tertiary music’s workings.



Lobbying potential

  • How successful can / has NACTMUS been in lobbying? – for example, the potential changes to understandings of music research within (eg) the Research Quality Framework was driven by NACTMUS primarily.
  • Lobbying at local level can be powerful as well as nationally – local support can’t be taken for granted, but can be targeted.
  • We need to have lists of federal and state ministers who are interested in music – and who can make the link on the sector’s behalf when decisions are made (note the impact of some federal MPs around the time of the Strong Orchestras report).
  • We need to identify ways of playing the game and being one step ahead, and to be able to point to things that are being done already.
  • This must happen along the efforts of top performers and composers, to ensure unity of message and enhancement of outcomes.

Links beyond (tertiary) music

  • The relationship of NACTMUS with Universities Australia is unclear.
  • CHASS (Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences) can respond on NACTMUS’ behalf, but needs our evidence and data for advocacy.
  • Thinking / dreaming outside education funding is possible.
  • The link between what happens in music higher education and the impact on ordinary people’s lives, not just graduate outcomes etc. needs to be made over and over again – the notion of a national cultural resource.
  • Trans-disciplinary work can be used to strengthen the case – opportunities to truly link and build relationships.

Identity and Profile

  • The discipline itself needs to recognise excellence and invoke its own systems of recognition.
  • Overseas institutions are ahead on this type of work and thus can be built upon as models.
  • Evidence must be available to ensure ministerial support.


End products

  • Graduate outcomes – the tertiary sector can make strong cases with numerous examples for its success over a long period of time.
  • Institutions need to be clear on what is needed, when and where to ensure matching of inputs and outputs.


  • Institutions should educate its graduates to acknowledge their teachers upon completion of studies, as some already do quite freely.
  • Research is already taking place, but needs to be drawn together to demonstrate the impact of the arts.
  • One can’t just argue from an economic basis, due to the vulnerability of the studio teaching concept – the holistic view of a varied experience and learning contexts should be fostered.
  • Need for marketing of tertiary music’s products and services – maybe more funds are needed to accomplish this better.

Non-core support sources

  • Opportunities exist for funds in the arts that others can’t access.
  • Music can move the debate, like medicine has shown over the years – leverage needed to increase funding and support.



  • We need to recognise and engage with the diversity of musical production esp. non-western backgrounds and cultures.
  • Older people / community based groups – music involvement doesn’t have to be at the highest performance level for it to be meaningful and productive, and there are cultural / research benefits, as well as the cultivation of advocates and benefactors of the future.
  • There is opportunity to engage with other young people on tertiary campuses who are interested in other things beyond being a highly trained performer.

Broader education base

  • Provide support for high school music students, and have a presence in the schools as role models and mentors for both teachers and students.
  • Some high school students can access university courses before they finish schools, and this model should be encouraged.

Community impact

  • Generic transferable skills and the current skills shortage – music graduates may be able to help with this issue through recognition of the diverse skill base that makes them flexible and employable.
  • There is a need to recognise such benefits via research which could describe what is being done – The use of appropriate language that defines success in terms of community impact and work of students and graduates.


  • NACTMUS could partner with others through website portal as a point of reference.
  • Audience development can be done better, with lessons learned from, or alliances with, the sporting community, eg. the value of leisure / artistic activities.
  • Music can also learn from the example of political support for elite training in sport, with the reservation that tertiary studies should not be aligned with a simple focus on winning in a competitive context, but on overall development of skills and expertise.


Trend setting

  • There should be less focus on music distribution issues and more on training students to discern and become ethical and responsible users of technology.
  • Presence of institutions and staff with technology: eg ‘facebook’ as a way to meet students halfway .
  • Technology is a pathway for current and future students: a new brand of student for whom this is their natural environment.

Employment outcomes

  • Careers in technical production and allied fields – there might be an idea that this career is available to everyone, but this may not be the case.
  • New programs needed to cover aspects of copyright and recording basics.

Course delivery

  • Courses are increasingly beingconverted into modules for online learning.


  • Printed music – is there potential for a paperless environment?
  • Are there alternative modes of delivery and engagement that do not require substantial investment in tailor-made spaces and environments?


National standards

  • The push for national guidelines could be used to enhance the status of music.
  • NACTMUS could take a role in benchmarking the needs of the sector and the discipline.

Assessment guidelines

  • Tertiary institutions should train students to become assessors themselves – peer assessment and similar processes which engage students in various roles.



Government policy

  • Arts policy within the recent federal election had no clarity or real detail.
  • Confusion of where music in academia should fit within the new federal portfolio structure – Education / Science & Innovation / Arts – perhaps all three, leading to a confusion of which minister(s) to target.
  • ‘Institutional diversity’ agenda can easily result in a stratification of funding levels and should be monitored closely.

University politics

  • Vice-chancellors’ attitude to music has a huge impact on the status and viability of the discipline, as evidenced on numerous occasions.

Community attitudes

  • Music is recognized as being part of everyone’s lives – but can be taken for granted because of its ready availability via technology and mass media.


Delivery models

  • Sustainability is a major issue, in light of various current and recent scenarios where the very existence of a tertiary school of music is questioned by authorities.
  • How can the sector effectively manage its defense of the studio model? research needs to be available there for this to be justified, and the sector needs to be speak with a unified voice across all its divers modes of delivery which are cost intensive.
  • The diverse needs of tertiary music curriculum, tailor-made facilities and infrastructure etc. and both ensemble and small group settings which are complimentary to studio-based delivery – one can’t effectively defend this only on the basis of tradition and so needs to be justified with a range of evidence.

Values vs support

  • There is a mismatch with music in our lives and people’s willingness to pay for it.



  • Broadening of access should not result with a dilution of tertiary programs and their focus.
  • Elitism / specialization vs inclusive involvement / access is a difficult tension for tertiary institutions that are already facing resourcing challenges.
  • The wider sense of what constitutes music in the broadest sense – an opportunity and also a threat, in that tertiary sector’s definitions and understanding of music could be at odds with community attitudes.


  • The declining birth rate presents a challenge for sustainability of tertiary programs if not immediately, in the medium term.
  • The nexus of supply and demand for trained musicians should be watched closely.
  • Challenges of how the current student lives and studies and therefore how best to engage.


  • Terminology within generic ‘arts education’ – much harm has been done to music education, since music’s needs are different to every other art form (only dance is similar) – too much of a collectivization in the curriculum can threaten viability of music as a discipline within school systems, leading to further problems at tertiary levels.



  • Copyright ownership issues is a fraught area for tertiary music, particularly in terms of creation of intellectual property via creative work.
  • Information literacy has made an impact on traditional research outcomes – all formats have challenges and inherent values.


  • Enables a ‘non-location specific’ aspects to people’s lives, which is in conflict with real-time interaction eg ensembles in a tertiary context.



  • Training of performers has not traditionally been focused on avoidance of injury, and this is alooming issue.
  • Competition with regional players – Australia should be aware of what is happening in other areas eg South East Asia and how this will impact on student recruitment.


  • Disability access is an increasing challenge that cannot be ignored.
  • Flexibility expected by many students who are currently working as well as studying – this is their reality but not one normally catered for by tertiary programs.



  • One to one teaching – there are substantial risk factors and vulnerabilities, both inter-personal and structural.
  • In terms of assessment, one must be able to find language to defend criteria without losing the ability to recognize the ‘IT’ factor Health and safety is an overriding concern requiring greater attention.


  • Risk aversion also an issue.
  • Accountability.


Prof. Peter Roennfeldt. Prepared with input from NACTMUS members.

Professor Peter Roennfeldt is Director, Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland.


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