WHEN the Victorian College of the Arts completes its merger with Melbourne University in 2011, Maj Ingemann says her $80,000 drama degree will be useless.
The third-year student from Holland struggled to describe how she felt about the merger that will make the once independent VCA part of Melbourne University’s broad faculty of music.
“When you say yes to putting yourself in an $80,000 debt like that, the name and the reputation of that institution is incredibly important,” Ms Ingemann said.
“If this whole thing goes ahead, it will mean that I will have a piece of paper that in two or three years people will be like, ‘VCA? never heard of it’.”
Going bankrupt, the VCA was taken over by Melbourne University in 2007.
Since then the university has set about introducing its Melbourne Model, which will eventually force VCA students to do three-years of general arts subjects before specialising in their chosen field.
The move also spells the end for some of the college’s uniquely specialised courses like puppetry, musical theatre and undergraduate film and television.
For Maj, VCA’s smorgasbord of different courses was what attracted her to the college and is, she said, a major drawcard for international students.
“I was offered a spot in plenty of schools in Northern Europe but I chose VCA, where I have to pay so much, because it is the only school in the world that gathers together so many different art disciplines,” Ms Ingemann said.
“I don’t know of any international students who would want to come if VCA doesn’t offer that unique diversity of courses. I definitely wouldn’t have.”
And while the international student community at VCA is small – according to college figures, of the 165 international students who auditioned for a place this year, only one was accepted – those few who did score a place now find their uncertain future extremely frightening.
“I feel like there is no information,’‘ Ms Ingemann said.
“I have $80,000 I need to pay back to my bank … my parents are not in a position where they can help me at all … I live off scraps, whatever I can get, and I find it all very disillusioning,” she said.
Frustrated by the changes, VCA’s international and local students joined forces with Australian celebrities Geoffrey Rush and RocKwiz host Julia Zemiro to protest on August 21.
Dressed in eye-popping costumes only artists can pull-off, the crowd in its hundreds noisily danced and marched from the college’s campus on St Kilda Rd to the steps of Parliament House.
Delighted onlookers stopped to stare at the crowd, which included a giant squirrel, half-naked Scottish warriors and a student dressed as the Melbourne University goddess whipping ragged drama students from her chariot.
The protest called on politicians and the college dean Sharman Pretty to save the VCA and was the final act from a week of campaigning by concerned students, alumni and members of the public.