Institutional Perspectives, Global Challenges, Innovative Approaches

Zukunft Hochschulbildung
©Marcell Nimführ

On 7 June 2017, presidents and deans from internationally renowned universities and conservatoires in the fields of music and performing arts throughout Europe, Asia, and North America met for a symposium on The Future of Higher Education in Music and Performing Arts. This event was held as part of the bicentennial celebration of the mdw. In times of accelerated economic, social, political, and technological change, institutions of higher education face myriad common challenges. These pertain to the globalised and increasingly competitive education market as much as they do to local political conditions affecting culture and education and to the working environments that will be faced by their graduates in the cultural and creative economies.

Rector Ulrike Sych, representing the mdw, was joined by the following distinguished panellists: Yu Feng (President, Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing), Jonathan Freeman-Attwood (Principal, Royal Academy of Music, London), James Gandre (President, Manhattan School of Music, New York), Jari Perkiömäki (Rector, University of the Arts Helsinki), Gyula Fekete (Vice Rector for Research and Internal Affairs, Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, Budapest), Sangjick Jun (Rector, Seoul National University, College of Music), Martin Rennert (President, Berlin University of the Arts), Jamal Rossi (Dean, Eastman School of Music, Rochester), and Konstantin Zenkin (Deputy Rector for Scientific Affairs, Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory). Each panel session was followed by open discussions with an informed audience of approximately 130 participants. Three panel sessions – Positioning within the Global Context (chair: Barbara Boisits, University of Music and Performing Arts Graz), Pedagogical Models and Societal Challenges (chair: Stefan Gies, AEC) and Careers and Fields of Work for Musicians/Artists (chair: Johannes Meissl) – saw the panellists and the audience examine institutional perspectives, global challenges, and innovative approaches. Even if the various institutions’ differing focuses and contexts of work entailed – at times quite starkly – contrasting standpoints and approaches, there was a keen awareness of how the great challenges of the 21st century can only be dealt with successfully based on mutual respect and understanding as well as through joint projects and debates. Dialogue, mutual interest, and the willingness to learn from each other’s experience characterised the entire symposium.

All of the representatives shared and vigorously expressed the conviction that being committed to, striving for, and preserving top-notch performance and the highest possible level of artistic training on an international level is the universal core concern – be it in an institution’s day in, day out work or in the development of strategies for the future.

While external economic and political factors are putting more and more pressure on our institutions, forcing them to compete internationally (not only for the most talented students but also, to an extent, for the most solvent ones), universities and conservatoires also need to develop distinct profiles and unique features in various areas ranging from artistic research to digital learning and the diversity of their musical cultures.

Openness, diversity, collaboration, and global dialogue on an equal footing need to be the pivotal principles of all our endeavours. This was exemplified by efforts that include collaborative local, national, and global networks as well as institutional focuses on musical diversity and specific local, traditional, or otherwise special musical cultures complementary to Western classical music. Other examples that were mentioned demonstrate how making space for student-initiated content facilitates participation and innovation, as well as how courses or programmes that reach out beyond campuses can help to break down barriers. The panellists also dealt with the common issue of making their institutions accessible to the broadest possible group of young people, reaching out to talents from all social backgrounds from a very early age.

This points to universities’ and conservatoires’ social responsibilities and the need for them to face societal challenges. Lifelong learning programmes, outreach offerings that serve local communities, volunteer activities, and other forms of opening up and attracting the public to the arts and to music can represent measures to this end. Future strategies also clearly need to work toward stronger representation of women at the level of institutional leadership. And furthermore, this dialogue should hereafter include institutions from Latin America, Africa, South Asia, and the Arab World.

The matter of teaching, pedagogical excellence, and investment in early learning plays a key role. Given the enormous significance and relevance of music teaching and training to the future of musical culture, the existing hierarchy between the practice and teaching of the arts is proving to be unproductive. Music education at the pre-school, primary school, and secondary school levels entails more than just the highest quality and sustainable collaborations: it also necessitates generating awareness among politicians as to the relevance of the arts and music as indispensable prerequisites for a comprehensive education from which no child should be excluded. Apart from the arts’ so-called social and cognitive transfer effects, their inherent value should be the driving force.

Students are at the centre of all our institutions’ efforts. They need to be provided with the best possible conditions and instruction in order to be prepared for sustainable career and personal development within a professional field that is undergoing fundamental change. The phenomenon of so-called portfolio-careers entails that students need to be prepared to manifest a very high degree of flexibility between various fields and competencies, including the ability to work in various musical styles. Artistic excellence and multifaceted training do not contradict one another. Curricula need to be open to change and to new ideas, and they need to provide a broad education that offers space for contemplation and for the development of individual prospects and competencies including entrepreneurial, organisational, and social skills. This can be supported by extracurricular offerings, for example those provided by career centres and other institutional initiatives.

We hope that this summary can serve to mark the beginning of an enhanced and increasingly broad process of dialogue and cooperation. All of our institutions possess distinct yet complementary experiences and strengths – so let us work together, striving to achieve the best possible future for music and performing arts education.

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