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Should AUT Have a Music Degree?


Written by Caeden Tipler (they/them) | @caedentipler | News Editor

Illustration by Younsoo (Chloe) Kim (she/her) | @ysksince0522 | Contributing Artist

Amongst academic job cuts, course closures, and the end of entire degrees, Debate is asking the opposite question - should AUT create a Music programme? 

Aotearoa currently has variations of Bachelor of Music programmes on offer at Waikato, Victoria, University of Auckland, Otago, Massey and Canterbury. Some of these universities even offer post-graduate programmes. Other tertiary institutions include Vision College, Matapuna Training Centre, Wintec and others. AUT is notably absent, despite similar courses and a strong reputation in Creative Arts. 

Lawrence Xu-Nan, tertiary spokesperson for the Green Party, spoke about the importance of Arts degrees, including Visual Arts, during his recent maiden speech in Parliament. He stated the “significance of arts and humanities cannot be overstated in our society” in a time where we have “reduced humanity to numbers and statistics, rather than remembering that they are individuals with their own struggles, their own hopes and aspirations.”

Xu-Nan described attending University as the breaking point for his illusion that politics didn’t impact him. His belief that he was not impacted by what the Government was doing was  “crushed by the drastic decrease in university funding, particularly in the arts and humanities in the early 2010s.” 

University students today might be able to relate to this experience. Victoria University recently closed down its Greek, Italian, Latin, Geophysics, and physical geography subjects, and AUT’s reputation is still recovering from a controversial 2021 plan to cut 170 staff. These are only a few examples, but it’ll be no surprise that Music programmes are especially at risk as Arts degrees are not afforded the same status as the revered STEM subjects. Spokespeople from universities such as the New Zealand School of Music have expressed concern about budget cuts. This is while National and Labour Party investment in tertiary education has centred around medical schools and technology. 

Hirimaia Eketone (Ngati Maniapoto), known professionally as HIRI, recently dropped their  music degree at the University of Auckland. They said it drained them of “creative freedom and inspiration” and contributed to burnout. They noted the industry is a male-dominated field, and that there was a clear lack of Māori and Pasifika students during their time. 

However, Eketone maintains Music degrees are worth protecting. “Though my experience may have been subpar, so many of my friends really succeed in their degrees and use it to boost their career. The tutors at universities need protecting too - they put so much hard work into sharing their passion with students!”

A spokesperson for AUT told Debate that “performing arts have not featured prominently at AUT” and this is partly because research has found there is not sufficient demand for this form of tertiary study. The last time AUT offered anything close to courses that could make up a music degree was 18 years ago. This was run by Te Ara Poutama, and was a level 4 certificate called Kawa Ake which included music and performance.

However, for many reasons, AUT should be utilising an opportunity to expand into music. AUT has course offerings in Sound Production and Sonic Cultures leading the country. Music is only a natural extension of courses already on offer, and in high demand from industry employers. 

Te Auaha, Te Pukenga’s creative campus in Wellington, has closed many of its music programmes. Music schools at major universities, including at the University of Auckland, have been at risk through the massive restructuring done in recent years. Music is not seen as the most profitable degree, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. As students look for institutions still investing in their Visual Arts programmes, the University of Auckland shouldn’t be their only mainstream study option in Tāmaki Makaurau. 

When I spoke to Lawrence Xu-Nan about the merits of the music degree, he emphasised the benefits for AUT. “AUT has a real opportunity to expand its Visual Arts programmes. AUT’s programmes are top-of-the-line in the context of Aotearoa, and give people the practical element that the University of Auckland lacks.” 

Xu-Nan, who describes arts as “what brings people together” emphasises the previous government’s emphasis on STEM subjects as being important, but lacking. Arts degrees, including music, look at interpersonal relationships where STEM fails to achieve this. When STEM says can we even do it, arts asks should we do it? 


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