Griffith University’s Queensland College of Arts (QCA) will discontinue its Bachelor of Photography, in an effort to claw back revenue lost due to a lack of international students.
With a critical reliance on international student fees, universities across the country are reeling back on spending and this means redundancies and course restructures are afoot. Universities will target degrees regarded as expendable – even more so if they aren’t meeting some arcane KPIs. Obviously this isn’t chemical engineering, law, medicine, or social sciences. Or even design.
Griffith University, projecting an estimated $700 million revenue shortfall over five years due to Covid, determined that merging a couple of QCA degrees, and axing three photography staff, is part of what’s required to establish a sustainable business model.
In early November Griffith University released the Proposal for Workplace Change: Roadmap to Sustainability, which outlined plans to save money and adjust to the new normal. The biggest cuts were in the Arts/Education/Law groups – with plans to reduce 17,146 teaching hours by the end of this year. This includes merging the Bachelor of Photography and the Bachelor of Fine Art into the Bachelor of Visual Arts.
The University followed up with a four-week consultation period to field feedback from affected parties, including students and staff. Despite significant push back, the photography course was still cut.
‘Unfortunately the decision to cut the Bachelor of photo was still made despite lots and lots of feedback from us. I don’t know if the vice-chancellor even considered what we gave them or if this whole discussion period was just going through the motions while the decision was already made up in their minds,’ Isabella Porras, photography student and co-president of Blurrr, the QCA photography club, told Inside Imaging.
The QCA Blurrr club drafted a 140-page document including letters of support from photographic groups such as Oculi, Lumina, and Degrees South, along with contributions from alumni who went on to establish solid careers.
It wasn’t enough, and the consensus among students is the communication has been poor and one-way.
‘If it wasn’t for staff and on-the-ball students, we may not have known (about the course being merged) as the only communication we had was a very vague email from the vice-chancellor saying what would happen,’ Porras said. ‘All throughout this process the higher ups at Griffith have not communicated at all. We even had a meeting with the wider QCA and the Dean, where we couldn’t ask questions verbally, and written questions had to be approved. Censorship really.’
Doesn’t really sound like the kind of environment to exchange ideas and cultivate discourse!
Current first- and second-year students will have the opportunity to finish their Bachelor of Photography degree over the next two years. Second-year photography units will conclude after 2021, and 2022 will be the final year students will graduate with a QCA Bachelor of Photography. From then on photography will only be taught as unit electives through the Visual Arts program.
No future students can enrol in a Bachelor of Photography, and the planned timeline will create restraints for part-time students, and those planning a referral.
The course previously had three majors – Photographic Art Practices, Documentary, and Advertising. The Bachelor of Visual Art will only offer Art Photography as a major, while Advertising will be taught through electives, and Documentary has been discontinued.
QCA photography lecturer, Martin Smith, informs Inside Imaging the photography program had four academic staff – Jay Younger, Heather Faulkner, Amy Carkeek and himself – and two dedicated technical staff, Greg Hoy and Tony Hamilton. After the changes, the remaining staff consists of Smith, Carkeek and Hoy. ‘Losing three staff has been a big blow to our course,’ Smith said.
QCA offers a handful of bachelor degree courses, and photography isn’t the only impacted program. But photography once again is one of the first to be marched toward the chopping block. Whether its in newsrooms, government arts funding programs, or education institutions – it seems photography is an area where funding can be withdrawn to claw back expenditure.
Porras highlights that Blurrr admins met with the dean of QCA, who admitted the marketing of the Photography and Fine Art degrees is ‘incredibly poor’. ‘Our degrees, which are of a high quality with staff who have experience working for the New York Times and other reputable publications, are just not being marketed to its fullest degree’.
She acknowledges that attendance figures were lower in photography than other degrees, but attributes it to poor marketing rather than something being wrong with the course ,or photography as a discipline or career.
‘At QCA we didn’t learn “how” to take a photo we learnt ‘why’ we were taking photos. So ethics and collaboration and critical thinking have been present all throughout the photo degree and most prominently in the documentary major, which will no longer be taught. It’s easy to learn how to take pictures but to make images that really matter and contribute to society and critical thinking – I think you can’t get that from a basic, and not very specific, visual arts degree. And the support of the staff at QCA is what makes it so great. Even through lockdown teachers have given us so much support.
‘By Griffith getting rid of our degree, they’ve gotten rid of a community.’
Another blow to photography in 2020.