Higher Education

Ensuring good educational opportunities for visual artists is one of NAVA’s central concerns to enable artists to be well prepared to embark on and progress in their professional careers. Tertiary art schools are key to reaching this objective.


The Dawkins reforms in the early '90s saw art schools moved under the umbrella of universities and required to be more business like and set ‘performance targets’.

Levels of public funding stagnated and between 1995 and 2005 public investment in tertiary education in Australia increased by 0%.

After Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) was introduced by the Howard government in 2006, universities were stripped of support services. In 2008, in an address to the Sir Robert Menzies Oration, the Hon Julia Gillard MP acknowledged that together with increasing student enrolment fees, the impact of this bill had diminished the quality of campus life resulting in low student satisfaction levels and a high drop-out rate.

Funding cuts to higher education have been driving program and campus closures or mergers across both the university and TAFE sector.


Australia’s university sector has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus crisis in 2020 without access to any of the Federal Government’s income support including JobKeeper. 

In October 2020, the Job-Ready Graduates Bill was passed through the Senate which means fees for arts and humanities degrees will increase by 113 per cent.

The impact of this is that universities are facing enormous deficits and the fear that enrolments in the arts will drop due to the increase in fees. Sweeping cuts that are being made at all universities, targeting the arts and studio-based learning in particular.

What's happening to Australia's art schools?

There was a time when art schools were regarded as a thrilling hotbed of experimentation, bohemianism and great new anarchic ideas. But the gradual funding squeeze and the Dawkins reforms saw them moved under the umbrella of the universities and required to be more business like and set ‘performance targets’. What has been the consequence?

School to Work Inquiry

In May 2017 the Federal Government led by the Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham set up an Inquiry on how students are supported from school to work.

According to the Parliamentary website: “The inquiry will look at ways to ensure students are supported from school to work by measuring gain in schools and how this contributes to supporting students for post-school education and training. The inquiry will also look at opportunities to better inform students of appropriate post-school education and training using employment outcomes as a measure of course suitability.” You can read more about this Inquiry here.

NAVA has made a submission to this inquiry available here.



K Flintoff, R Martin, A Barker, Pedagogy in Creative Disciplines, academia.edu


Lauren Carroll Harris, Are Australian universities creating good artists?, Overland, 221 Summer 2015


Rowley, J., Bennett, D., Blom, D., Dunbar-Hall, P, Exploring the Pedagogy and Impact of Technology on ePortfolio Creation for Arts Students in Australian Tertiary Study, UAE Journal of Educational Technology and eLearning, vol.5 2014,pp 36-45

Professor Noel Frankham, UTas, Attitudes and Trends in Australian Art and Design Schools, ACUADS, 2014

Vincent McGrath, UTas, Differentiate or Perish : the Future for Regional Visual and Performing Arts, ACUADS, 2014


Peter Anderson, Buckley & Conomos, Rethinking the Contemporary Art School, Real Time, Aug-Sept 2010


Sarah Miller, reform, reinvention & the education revolution, Real Time, Aug-Sept 2009

Su Baker, Brad Buckley and Giselle Katt, Creative arts PhD: future-proofing the creative arts in higher education: scoping for quality in creative arts doctoral programs: project final report, ACUADS & UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY, 2009


Don Lebler and Erica McWilliam, Aligning Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment for building creative capacity in undergraduate students: A Case Study from the Conservatorium, paper presented at the Creating Value: Between Commerce and Commons Conference, Brisbane


VET Fee-Help

Art education being crushed!

NAVA wrote an open letter to the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham in response to media reports that the majority of arts courses would be denied subsidy as part of the proposed major overhaul to the government's VET FEE-HELP Scheme, 26th August 2016. When this was officially confirmed, NAVA made a submission to the Education Minister regarding the proposed changes in late October 2016.

In November, NAVA took a delegation to Canberra to meet with the Minister and his adviser, the Arts Minister's adviser, Shadow Education Minister and the Australian Greens arts representative. We made the case for reinstating most art courses to be eligible for the renamed VET Student Loan Scheme. The delegation consisted of NAVA, members of the National Advocates for Arts Education (NAAE) and a highly reputable independent RTA. We were advised that the next opportunity for reconsideration would be mid-2017.

NAVA letter to Minister Birmingham re: proposed VET loans changes, 26 August 2016

NAVA submission to the Education Minister re: changes to the VET Student Loan scheme, 27 October 2016

Save Art in TAFE
Save Art in TAFE rally, 2012

Cuts to government funding subsidy for arts courses in TAFEs started in 2012 causing a dramatic drop in enrolments and as a result, a the severe contraction of courses and staff around the country, the worst affected states being Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

In September 2012, the NSW government announced that it would stop subsidising art education in TAFE, leaving 4,000 students without access to finishing their courses in 2013, unless they could pay fees of around $6000 to $8000 per year.

A Senate Inquiry into the role of TAFE and its operations was called in early 2013 in response to cuts made to the subsidy of courses in the TAFE sector in several states.

NAVA made a submission to this inquiry.

In the news


Arts sector puzzled by vocational course cuts, The Wire, 21 October 2016

Richard Watts, Arts education cuts leave sector fuming, ArtsHub, 18 October 2016

Osman Faruqi, The Federal Government Has Wiped Out Vocational Arts Education In Australia, Junkee, 12 October 2016

TAFE NSW overhaul will include job losses, unclear how many, Minister says, ABC News, 13 September 2016

Matthew Knott, We will smash business model: Simon Birmingham outlines private college crackdown, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 2016

Richard Watts, Student loans cut to creative courses, ArtsHub, 10 October 2016

Arts training threatened in vocational loans review, ArtsHub, 29 August 2016


Kirsty Needham, TAFE to sell off 27 sites, close regional campuses, SMH, 13 September 2015

Matthew Knott, TAFE shake-up: federal government pushes for vocational education takeover, SMH, 11 September 2015


Jordyn Butler, Where RMIT stands in TAFE funding dilemma, Catalyst, 10 April 2014

Peter Wicks, No warning: NSW Government leaves TAFE students stranded, Independent Australia, 7 February 2014

Monique Cowper, Job cuts feared at Hornsby TAFE after fine art department axed, Hornsby Advocate, 6 February 2014

Matthew Knott, NSW deals blow to Christopher Pyne's push for school independence, SMH, 5 February 2014
Tracey Findlay, TAFE students left in the lurch after art schools closed at Northern Sydney Institute, Hornsby Advocate, 4 February 2014


Anna Patty, Call to reinstate fine arts funding at TAFE, SMH, 19 March 2013


Brendan Sheehan, TAFE cuts will affect everyone: state governments should think again, The Conversation, 20 September 2012

Rachael Lucas and Jenni Henderson, East Gippsland arts community brace for TAFE cuts, ABC Gippsland, 1 August 2012

Geoff Strong, TAFE cuts the end of the road for Ballarat arts school, The Age, 25 May 2012