Federal Education Minister must act now to ensure 2017 performing arts students get loan support they need to access industry valued vocational training.
One very important entry point to employment in the arts is via vocational training in dance, music and acting. Yet the Education Minister’s student loan reform is creating a damaging road block to these very courses. The eligibility list for arts-based VET student loans scheme has excluded all arts performance skills courses. These changes were made without research and consultation with the professional performing arts sector or the government agencies that support our sector.
And we are not talking about road blocks to corrupt and moribund private college rorters, but about courses offered at National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA), West Australia Performing Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), The Actors Centre, The National Theatre of Melbourne as well as future opportunities for students at Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Ballet School as well as respected private colleges.
Already the Actors Centre has cancelled current auditions for new students in 2017 with plans to beginning 2017 first years later in the year, if a sustainable financial model can be secured.
Australia’s cultural sector is a major driver of national income, contributing $50 billion towards the nation’s GDP with over $4.2 billion coming from the arts. Arts companies and the creatives working with them embrace the very characteristics sought in a 21st century economy. They are agile, and innovative, operating in a very competitive and changeable environment. Training to work in the arts fosters very similar characteristics.
The Minister’s new framework prioritises support for courses linked to STEM, state skill shortages and agriculture. The state skills shortage lists are not created across jurisdictions in a uniform manner or with this policy work in mind. Importantly they were developed in an environment where the very arts courses that are now ineligible were operating and delivering skills for the sector. This process also fails to recognise the 21st century skills set that is nurtured through arts training.
Andrew Charlton from AlphaBeta has been collecting online statistics and was recently quoted on his analysis of 4.2 million job advertisements in the past three years. He found a 212 per cent increase in jobs demanding digital literacy, a 158 per cent rise in jobs demanding critical thinking and a 65 per cent rise in jobs demanding creativity. Many unskilled and repetitive jobs are under threat, as are some in the engineering, accountancy and science disciplines. However jobs that require the human touch – creative and emotional intelligence – are much less vulnerable. Being so resilient in the face of automation they will be the jobs that will grow over the next 20-plus years.
For those arts courses still eligible for student loans, the Education Minister has proposed to cap loans at $10,000. Yet most performance training involves small classes and intensive teaching and a lot of practise. What is the rationale to cap at $10,000 when other courses are capped at $15,000 and what about the gap between the cap and real costs of delivery?
This fee gap will deter students from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds from accessing training. Ultimately, this will negatively impact the entire professional arts sector’s capacity to accurately reflect our culture.
The Government must act to address government spending issues in vocation training - but it must act with care and integrity, ensuring real talent and ambition in the arts is supported.
AMPAG has provided advice to the Senate Inquiry, to the department of education, the Education Minister’s office and the Arts Minister and his department stating that the eligibility criteria is flawed and that valued arts vocational training courses have been excluded from the course eligibility list. There is engagement in these issues on both sides of the House.
The Minister does have the capacity to make exceptions- to avoid unintended consequences impacting the new performance student cohort at the beginning of 2017. At this point exercising exceptions the most practical way forward for now, with the opportunity to consider appropriate eligibility criteria and loan caps for arts vocation courses as part of a review of the new scheme planned for mid next year.
The arts require constant ‘tilling of the soil’ to uncover artistic talent– it is competitive and it relies on a pool of diverse talented artists. The sector is valuable in its own right as well as a lightning rod that inspires creativity, work ethic, dedication, discipline and courage - valuable traits in the 21st century job market.
 Director Alpha Beta Advisors, Masters and Doctorate in Economics from Oxford University, Rhodes Scholar.