Photograph: Amy Davies Music has found itself increasingly central in the subject controversy surrounding higher education . Recent data showed the total number of Ucas entries to study music rose by 3.5% in the 2013 cycle, following significant increases in applications for medical-related sciences, mathematical sciences, computer sciences, engineering and economics. Yet numbers of prospective higher education applicants who studied music A-level fell last year by 7%. Many music educators speak of feeling marginalised, with their subject excluded from the Ebacc and noticeably absent from the Stem grouping (science, technology, engineering and maths) absent too from the Russell Group’s approved list of ‘facilitating subjects’ (ones that will “keep a wide range of degree courses and career options open to you”). The value of studying music in higher education in the context of the economically-charged narrative on education provided the background to a recent roundtable discussion held at the Royal Academy of Music and involving senior figures from higher education, sixth-form education and the arts industry. All participants in the roundtable agreed that studying music at higher education equips students with a spectrum of transferable skills that are of inestimable value in the workplace, but equally that higher education institutions need to do more to avoid music students being, in the words of one contributor, “justified entirely by their relevancy to non-music spheres”. Music education and cultural value Contributing under the Chatham House rule, which allows comments to be reported without attribution, panel members began by disagreeing over the relationship between music education and cultural value.
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What is the value of higher education music?
Those applying for higher education courses are under more financial strain than ever before, and consequently there is a great deal of pressure to opt for facilitating subjects those which will open up the widest possible range of careers for the student. Participants in the roundtable discussion agreed unanimously that studying music at higher education level provides a superlative set of transferable skills, making a music graduate highly employable. However, many contributors were extremely uncomfortable at this way of looking at music education, feeling that too much focus is being laid on the economic value of studying music when the crucial factor is the education itself. It’s time for music departments to wake up and promote more clearly their value and benefits, said one contributor. The value of higher education music itself has been clouded by the panic over school music. We don’t sell music at higher education by saying it will make you more literate, or better at maths.
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