By Emma-Kate Wilson
On June 20, The Daily Telegraph published an article detailing the closure of the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) – something that didn’t quite come as a surprise to those who have been following the future of USyd’s art school over the past few years, or in fact anyone aware of the continual cuts to arts funding in the state.
With this news, came that of a joint merger with the University of New South Wales, a statement confirming that the two universities were in talks to unite SCA and UNSW’s Art & Design (UNSWAD) campus. Since the announcement, there has been a consistent state of upset across the Arts community, and within campuses, including the National Arts School (NAS).
As a member of the UNSWAD Council, I have decided to look at some of the facts (and myths) surrounding the looming merger, after conversations with representatives at NAS, SCA and UNSW. At the time of writing, the clearest answer from all parties involved has been ‘we don’t know yet’. It seems no one can give a straight answer to what the merger means for students, the Arts, and the wider community. SCA has not taken this furiously ambiguous answer lying down, with planned protests, community action and the growing campaign to #letSCAstay.
So, what are the facts? SCA and UNSWAD have entered into a Heads of Agreement, with a merger planned as soon as Semester 1, 2017, as confirmed by emails sent out to both UNSWAD and SCA students on June 21. The proposed merger does not take into account the differences in study undertaken or art produced by SCA students, but states they can transfer to a UNSW degree, or undertake their final units of study at UNSW, graduating with a University of Sydney degree.
Students from UNSWAD campus are as frustrated as their SCA counterparts at the proposal. Currently, SCA has 550 undergraduate students who will have to find new ways to complete their studies, all with individual studio space. The most common concern is, how will an influx of new students affect the Art & Design campus?
Well, quite simply, it won’t work. UNSWAD has a capacity of 2,300 students. Currently, this capacity is running at 1900, so we only have room for 400 new students. As much as both USyd and UNSW pretend that the SCA students have a multitude of options of continuing their studies, they don’t. SCA students who transfer will not retain their independent studio space, and the courses they will be offered will not be more diverse than the current UNSWAD curriculum. More classes will be added to accommodate new students, but there is still no confirmation as to whether SCA staff is being transferred over, or offered jobs. The news coming from our own university seems to be heavily juxtaposing the information offered by SCA, posing concerns with transparency.
Whilst the merger is yet undecided, we must show compassion and understanding to our fellow students, our counterparts in the arts community. The biggest help that can be offered to SCA students as UNSWAD students is support, in their campaign and in their predicament. While we have chosen this university, next year may bring students who never did.
Discussions are currently ongoing between the UNSWAD Student Council, Arc and faculty representatives, as well as Art & Design Dean, Ross Harley. These discussions are looking at how we can resolve the issue of the merger and support the SCA.