UK music colleges in race to rock bottom

UK music colleges in race to rock bottom


norman lebrecht

August 12, 2023

Professor Ian Pace sounds a warning in the Times Higher Educational Supplement:

… the position of scholarly study of music at tertiary level has become critical. For instance, institutions, including some in the Russell Group, are continually modifying skills prerequisites and curricular content to recruit students who often have little or no knowledge of notation or theory (reflecting declining provision of music at state schools). Outside the Russell Group, numbers on plain “music” degrees (as opposed to “music technology”, “commercial music” or the like) have declined sharply in the past decade, and now account for less than 20 per cent of students. Job opportunities for musicologists – and thus research – have also declined, and some institutions’ teaching relies heavily on casualised or hourly paid staff rather than research-active academics….

Read on here.


  • Secret exsinger says:

    1. This isn’t about music colleges (i.e. Conservatoires), it’s about academic music at universities.
    2. What are the stats for “music” degrees simply being rebranded? If a “music” degree 10 years ago was effectively already a “commercial music” or “music tech” degree but was called “music” that’s a name-only change.

  • Nick2 says:

    When the phrase “read on here” appears, it seems in most cases to be for an article behind a paywall or requiring some form of registration. Is there no one at Slippedisc who could take the trouble first of clicking and copying?

  • Aidan says:

    Can confirm as a student. So many are accepted without these musical skills and with such poor research/english/communication skills that they’ve had to completely invert the standards just over the last two years. What is bad is good enough and excellence is discouraged. How long before others start noticing?

  • Music Lover says:

    Behind a paywall.

  • CGDA says:

    Nowadays a lot of British universities and colleges offer puffed up useless music degrees. Cha ching! Scrap that useless PhD research about amateur composers from the coasts of Amunida or the mountains of Carmooda or Beethoven symphonies (the millionth analysis of…) or the sex life of Debussy!

    The same puffing situation is found in schools where an A level is now Year 9 from 30 years ago.

    Is Britain going for the title of “Stupidest nation in Europe”? Time for change!

  • Chris West says:

    The quoted section appears to be about universities not music colleges. The headline is misleading.

  • Officer Krupke says:

    Hardly surprising. Where is the work for music graduates?

    • Marcus says:

      nowhere, apart from teaching gigs churning out little replicas of yourself. Honestly, when was the last time (if ever) you thought to yourself, “you know what, we really could do with some more musicologists?”.

  • squagmogleur says:

    “Useless music degrees”, “where is the work for music graduates”. I wonder. I graduated in music in the 1970s and have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, a fulfilling career in music. But many of my music classmates opted for non-music careers in areas such as law, accountancy, finance, journalism, and IT. There existed at that time something called the “milk round”. Employers would descend on universities and hold career and job fares. They published an accompanying booklet summarising the jobs available and the type of graduates sought. Many jobs on offer were for graduates of specific disciplines, but, equally, many were for graduates of any discipline. Although the term ‘transferable skills’ wasn’t in general use then, it was clear that employers understood this concept and took it upon themselves to recruit and train graduates (the universities having educated them) and prepare them for careers in a range of professions, regardless of degree. And, admittedly on the basis of my personal experience, I think this practice continues today. My daughter graduated in music recently but is working in a non-music capacity for a major film company in London. My son also graduated in music and is now working successfully as a musician while one of his year group is now employed as an accountant with one of the major firms, was recently transferred to their New York office and now earning a very impressive salary. I’ve no reason to think that these examples are exceptional. So I don’t believe there is much basis for the notion of useless degrees or of poor employment opportunities for music graduates, notwithstanding the fact that gaining employment depends on the individual graduate and what they have done over and above their actual degree course. Degrees get you an interview, but it’s people who get jobs.

  • Marty says:

    Before Theory should come Natural musical ability. Anyone can learn Theory,or to Read, but Natural musical ability cannot be taught.

  • zayin says:

    Why, because academic music PhDs make such good Uber drivers?

  • Andrew says:

    Rather objectionable clickbait title. The article refers to academic music degrees at universities, not “music colleges”. However, there is certainly truth in the general assertion that students are being admitted to academic music degrees at universities who would not have got near them 30 years ago – limited musical ability, can’t read music, no idea about theory, no aural skills. This is particularly true of uber-profitable foreign students – I gave a lecture earlier this year to a group which included some Chinese students who didn’t appear to speak remotely adequate English.

  • Ian Pace says:

    Just to say quickly that anyone can read the article simply by registering – a subscription is not required.