Sydney College of the Arts closure: Who’s Next?

Amidst the ongoing uncertainty and turmoil on the future direction of ANU’s School of Music comes news that the Sydney College of the Arts is to close. When such a high profile art school can be pushed to the wall, Australia’s tertiary arts sector could be forgiven for wondering ‘Who’s Next?’

Announcing the merger of Sydney College of the Arts with Art and Design at the University of New South Wales, UNSW Vice-Chancellor Ian Jacobs confirmed that similar discussions were on-going with the National Art School ‘towards the creation of a national centre of artistic excellence that will put NSW at the forefront of art and design education and research in Australia’. NAS Director Michael Snelling confirmed that it was ‘on the cards’ that NAS may be ‘forced’ into the SCA/UNSW merger. Similar to the loss of the SCA of its Callan Park home at Rozelle, NAS confirmed that its current historic site was to be transferred from the NSW Department of Education to Property NSW.

While information is leaking out about options for enrolled students at SCA, little mention is made about the future of the staff at SCA, NAS or indeed UNSW who will inherit an additional student cohort.  

Current SCA staff have been prevented from speaking out by a clause in their Enterprise Bargain agreement which was reinforced by a timely email reminder from the SCA Dean as the merger was announced. However, staff students and supporters are expressing their dissatisfaction through an online petition which has, at the time of writing, amassed nearly 5000 signatures. 

Writing in The Australian, DDCA President Su Baker said: ‘This makes no sense and may be seen as the ultimate insult to generations of graduates’ and ‘will make academics in the creative arts across the country wonder what more they have to do to gain recognition’

Recent SCA staff member and current honorary Associate Professor Merilyn Fairskye sees the ‘dumping overboard’ of SCA as symptomatic of the university research economy: ‘The battle to have non-traditional research and its particular funding and income-generating models recognised within the university sector has been long and hard fought but, disappointingly, appears to have been to no avail.’

It is too early to tell whether this move represents the bigger better future for Art and Design that the two universities suggest or whether this is evidence of a return to a sector wide period of instability, restructures, absorption and closures as was reported by Noel Frankham[1] and Peter Roennfeldt a decade ago[2].

At least for the moment, in this never before exiting time of innovation and creativity, it appears that creatives in Sydney may be becoming expendable.



[1] Frankham, N. (2006). Attitudes and trends in Australian art and design schools. Paper presented at the ACUADS (Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools) 2006 Conference. Monash University and The Victorian College of the Arts Melbourne, Victoria.

[2] Roennfeldt, P. (2007). The genealogy and anatomy of the Australian tertiary music sector: How far have we come and where are we going? Paper presented at the NACTMUS 2007 conference. Brisbane, Griffith University.