Do we need music colleges?

In July 2013, the Landesrechnungshof Baden-Württemberg proposed to save between €4 and €5 million per year by cutting funding to all 5 music colleges in Baden-Württemberg: in Stuttgart, Mannheim, Freiburg, Karlsruhe and Trossingen.

The government proposed to reduce the total number of 2500 students by 500 in Mannheim and Trossingen, causing these two colleges to fear that a gradual reduction of the numbers of students attending over the next few years might eventually lead to total closure.

In an interview on SWR2 radio, Theresia Bauer, Secretary of State for Science, Research and Art in Baden-Württemberg, put forward changes in the job market as one of the main reasons for the proposed cuts:

“The musicians’ job market has changed. We have less possibility of placing qualified graduates in orchestras. And we have indications that it is difficult for music college graduates to earn enough as free-lancers to make ends meet. And therefore, we believe a reasonable reduction in the BA and MA areas is in the interests of the students.”

In a classic case of over-supply relative to demand which can be corroborated by statistical evidence gathered by Bishop (2014), Bauer’s argument seems reasonable, yet it provoked an outcry amongst students, music colleges, and musical organisations.

Christian Höppner, general secretary of the Deutscher Musikrat (umbrella organisation of all music associations in Germany) wrote an open letter to the Minister-President of Baden Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, not only emphasising the importance of Trossingen as a cultural centre in an area without cultural infrastructure, but also in terms of the Unesco’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions:

“All five music colleges are striking beacons of cultural diversity at a national and international level, and contribute significantly to a positive image of the federal state in public awareness. The planned cuts would have a fatal signal effect both nationally and internationally – also in the context of the Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions.”

Whether Bauer’s perspective is fair can be argued one way  (there aren’t actually enough music teachers for the number of pupils requiring them) or the other (free-lance musicians are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet), but what Höppner says about the value of the music colleges as institutions surely rings true in the context in which he mentions it.

I would like to briefly think about what else Höppner might have said, had he known about the results of my research project on defining cultural value.

In this blog I have written about how the process of making music together with others can contribute to being happy and to social cohesion, and how this is also helped by an identification with inherited values transferred via cultural heritage (the case of the Christmas carols). I have also written about the reason why economic value has become more and more important in societal awareness and how three students at Manchester University started a revolution in economics.

Bauer, in her policy recommendation, was treating music education at HE level as if its value could be captured in the language of neoclassical economics – and quite correctly in this context, if there is over-supply with regard to demand, neoclassical economics recommends that production be reduced.

The institution “music college”, however, also stands for values that are essential for a society to function: music as a “team” effort is unique in that it involves people in real time trying to achieve something together that is completely creative and completely non-competitive – unlike in sports there are only winners. The students trained in music colleges are empowered to create the context for happiness and social cohesion because they are using cultural heritage in a value construct far removed from anything neoclassical economics can offer.

In order to restore the balance between economic value and cultural value in societal perception we need institutions that places cultural value first.

If we want society to be healthy, we definitely need music colleges.


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