Joe plays guitar in a metal band – averagely well for a 20-year-old – and is enrolled on a music degree course at a post-92 university whose most pressing issue is its own surviva. He didn’t have to audition and there was no real interview. He was told what to expect, but he didn’t fully internalise the message that he’d be better off if he could read music.
The problem is that the delivery and even the content of the courses these days are centrally informed by student feedback, which goes straight to middle management. If some students say that there’s too much classical music, modules get chopped. Coursework is dumbed down. New modules are frowned on (students walk away from the unfamiliar). Feedback is narrowly prescribed, and entered on to tick sheets. The spectre of student complaint lurks at every corner.
This wholesale embrace of populism in pursuit of higher recruitment and satisfaction numbers irons out musical minorities and marginalises any sense that music is a value in and for itself. Gone is the idea that study can (and should) be difficult at times, and certainly not always concerned with what is most immediate. Gone is the possibility of a musical democracy based on a critically informed public.
This article is about Music Degrees, but many in Higher Education will recognise the tune.