Students fight cuts to last museum courses in state

Liz Hobday |

A petition has been started against University of Queensland plans to cut museum studies courses.
A petition has been started against University of Queensland plans to cut museum studies courses.

Students are fighting a University of Queensland proposal to cut its postgraduate museum studies courses, the only qualifications of their kind in the state.

A petition opposing the changes to the Master of Museum Studies and Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies, which would be phased out from 2025, has so far collected more than 2200 signatures.

“I now find myself faced with the horrifying prospect of moving interstate with no savings, amid a cost-of-living crisis,” said one student.

Another said: “I would hate to have to leave the state to do further study.”

Professor Kath Gelber from the Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences emailed students in May outlining the changes.

“Since at least 2018, Museum Studies has experienced challenges relating to enrolments, staffing and market differentiation,” she said in the letter.

An exhibit at the Queensland Museum (file image)
An industry leader says Queensland’s museums and galleries face a skills shortage. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

Despite investing in the program by improving the curriculum and appointing extra staff, student numbers remained low and continued to decline, impacting the program’s viability, she added.

The university’s email provided assurances that anyone enrolled would be able to complete their studies, with core courses offered until the end of 2026 and thesis and internship courses offered until mid-2029.

The state has about 400 public museums and galleries with 1600 staff and the sector is already facing a skills shortage, according to Museums and Galleries Queensland.

Executive director Rebekah Butler, who was giving a guest lecture at the university hours after the email was sent, said staff and students were shocked.

“It’s just quite devastating to see what’s happening … the university says enrolments are down but there’s nothing to benchmark that and the sense is it hasn’t declined” she told AAP.

“If this program ceases there will be no specialist programs in Queensland, and that will impact the current and future workforce.”

Graduates of the programs also worked in archives, libraries and historical societies.

The University of Queensland’s move follows the cutting of James Cook University’s Creative Industries program and the proposed closure of Griffith University Art Museum in 2023, as well as earlier cuts at Queensland College of the Arts.

Queensland University’s academic board meets on Friday and the proposal is subject to an internal review.

The university will continue to support current students to complete their studies, according to a spokesperson, who said the changes would have no effect on undergraduate courses.

“The university will continue to promote the arts and build on our deep connections to industry through partnerships and student placements with a range of the state’s key arts and cultural organisations,” they said.

“Despite significant investment from UQ, the programs have continued to experience challenges with low enrolments, staffing, and the availability of alternative study options.”