Music lovers are warning music education is on the rocks — and they want the trend reversed before it’s too late.

Sanja Domazet raised the issue on the OurSay/Crikey “Grill the Independents forum,” which gives people the chance to post, vote and comment on questions that will be put to the lower house independents by Crikey next month. Domazet’s question sits at No.3 with more than 750 votes:

“Music education is grossly underfunded in Australia, both in schools and more recently in cuts to the tertiary sector (such as the School of Music at ANU). How can we ensure that musicians receive the training opportunities necessary to nurture their talent and skills?”

Crikey contacted Domazet, a music student at the University of Melbourne, who is speaking out because “the tertiary music industry is just not valued by the government — it is thought that classical music is dying out and that nobody cares to listen or play it any more”.

“The lack of government funding is definitely off-putting, but it also means that we are motivated to get it back to where it was, to the time when music was appreciated and recognised as a valuable and essential element to the national tertiary curriculum,” she said.

An international benchmarking project conducted by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 2011 found that Australia conservatoria are 40% underfunded compared to their counterparts — yet are expected to deliver results of equal quality.

Music education represents less than 2% of Australian university budgets. It is labour and resource intensive; teaching spaces must be fitted with suitable acoustic properties and soundproofing, while the infrastructure for ensemble rehearsals, performances and master classes, in addition to high-quality recording equipment and instruments, requires maintenance.

Professor Huib Schippers, director of the Queensland Conservatorium at Queensland’s Griffith University, says the high cost of delivering quality tertiary music teaching means it should be funded more like dentistry and medicine than the current arrangement where it is funded like foreign languages, allied health and other art forms.

“In short, the current funding model fails to account for the higher costs incurred by high-quality music tuition,” he told Crikey. He says the gradual cross-subsidisation of music education in Australia has led to mediocre results.

“The money delivers the program, but it does not allow universities and institutions to produce high results. Music is an industry in which you must invest in order to reach a high degree of professionalism.”

Schippers says almost all school music departments are torn between offering mediocre programs that are cheap to run, and training students to the elite level that merits international recognition. “For now musical institutions must rely upon the kindness of vice-chancellors for funding,” he said.

It seems not all are so kind. In June, the Australian National University confirmed it would be axing one of its two undergraduate degrees and cutting jobs (23 academic and nine administrative staff) as part of a major restructure of its School of Music. One-on-one instrument and voice teaching will be outsourced, rather than being taught by specialist staff within its school. The department’s debt is predicted to reach a hefty $2.9 million this year.

So what does the future hold for Australia’s young musicians? “As it stands, the government is not going to increase any aspect of its funding before it reaches a surplus, which could be any number of years away,” Shippers said.

Although the base funding review acknowledged that funding for tertiary music education was inadequate, it did not give an indication about when (or even if) it would be rectified. In the meantime, the erosion of tertiary music faculties across the nation looks set to continue.