The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Bill Vine Headshot

How you can Help Save UEA's Music School

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Last Wednesday, 26 October 2011, the University of East Anglia announced its plans to close down the School of Music, with a recommendation "not to invest further" in creative musical education. The review panel that made this recommendation went about their business in secret, without involving or informing the Music Department, students and lecturers alike, until the decision had been made. The School has an administrative Head from another School, and no direct representation at Faculty, on Senate or Council.

Music is seen as being too small and UEA is not willing to invest further to increase its size, meaning redundancies for all staff and the end of any education in music at UEA. The department currently has the largest number of students it has ever had, operating at 25% over target.

In 2002 the university commissioned a review of the school, which concluded that it achieved remarkable things for its size, but should expand and needed corresponding investment. The school has doubled in size (apart from a teaching post never released by the university), but of investment there has been almost none. In recent years we have been asked to focus on teaching, with demonstrable success. We now stand at 12th overall (including conservatoires) and 8th among university music departments in the Guardian University League Table (UEA as a whole is at 19th); our National Student Satisfaction rating puts us at 3rd in the UK, and our graduate employment records are consistently high. The teaching team and programme are invigorated, the new intake larger than ever (25% above target) and the School felt at the beginning of an exciting new phase.

This has been achieved while being understaffed, and inevitably at some cost to research output. However, an under-informed mock Research Evaluation Framework took little account of the full range of creative and academic practice in the School. The review's comments on the quality and quantity of output and activity suggest a lack of awareness of facts or context. Research and practice of the School covers a wide range - from Sonic arts and composition to musicology, historical and contemporary performance at international level, and community, educational and health applications.

The breadth of this work in a small school may militate against a straightforward scoring success, but it contributes significantly to the research communities, to culture in the region and more widely, and in particular to the experience of music students - an important priority at UEA.

For information, our research income included in the last official Research Assessment Exercise in 2008 was:

Dr Sharon Choa
AHRC Resource Enhancement Grant (£250K) 2006-9 'Developing a model for web-based thematic catalogues: the music of Benjamin Britten' - in collaboration with The Britten-Pears Foundation (RA - Dr Lucy Walker)

Dr Simon Waters
AHRB Research Grant 1999-2003 (£143K) 'SARA- the Sonic Arts Research Archive' - a permanent public access online archive of electroacoustic music and sonic art and associated research materials linked to an academic access collection of primary source materials stored at UEA and 'ARiADA - Applied Research in Aesthetics in the Digital Arts' (RAs Dr Martin Dixon, Matt Rogalsky)

Dr Jonathan Impett
EPSRC Culture & Creativity Grant 2004-5 (£36K) 'Interactivity, Ubiquitous Technology and Music Performance' (Research Fellow -Professor John Bowers)

David Chadd
AHRB Research Grant (£123K) 2000-4 'CURSUS' project. (RA James Cummings)

Our problem is the lack of research income and spend since then, but as we've been introducing a new degree course and nearly doubling the size of the Under Graduate cohort that isn't too surprising. As a result of this focus towards teaching, we have achieved 3rd place in the same period despite being two posts (as well as one person on study leave) down for most of the period in question.

The review points to a running 'annual subvention', projected to rise to figure of £165k. Historically, this was to support wider, non-academic musical activity at UEA, a cultural benefit for staff, students and the city. The integration of this activity with academic work was seen as an advantage, an efficiency; it is now seen as a subsidy. Ironically, the university intends to continue supporting such outward-facing activity. The most costly, least income-generating part of this subvention is to remain.

Another economic argument suggests that future students will balk at any of their £9000 supporting other areas of university activity. In terms of the distribution of income to schools other than music, to senior managerial salaries or to sports teams, this is patently inconsistent. More to the point, the Students' Union directly refutes this notion and is gathering evidence of student support.

A strong university focus on league tables is already dealt with by our position. The question of lower (but rising) A level tariffs nevertheless arises. The review itself points out that given the numbers involved, replacing music entrants with those that meet UEA's aspirations would make no difference to the university's position. More telling might be the appetite of other schools for Music's admission numbers, also identified in the review.

The creative and performing arts clearly present administrative and accounting challenges in the current climate. Other institutions have met these with creative solutions; instead of commissioning a review to confirm the unsustainability of the status quo, we would ask UEA to think harder about how to do so.

UEA's School of Music is a vital and current part of an inter-institutional community of practice and research, and UEA's increasing ability to attract the major international figures in Electronic Music and Sonic Arts as performers, guest lecturers and composers in residence is indicative of its international standing. Locally, the Music department provides progression opportunities through undergraduate and postgraduate courses for the many students taking A-Levels and studying at other local educational institutions such as CME, NUCA, Access to Music and City College.

In the world of human dealings, music is a litmus test of intellectual, cultural, social and structural health - in universities still more so. It would be sad were UEA to fail this test.

For documents and the link to the online petition, please visit http://www.saveueamusic.org