In a blow to the Australian radio industry, Swinburne University has decided to discontinue its popular commercial radio course from 2013. The university sent an email to current students of the 23-year-old graduate diploma informing them of the decision.

“After careful consideration, the Faculty of Life and Social Sciences has made the decision to discontinue the N061 Graduate Diploma of Arts (Commercial Radio) program,” said the letter, although no further reason was given.

The one-year course has been running since 1989 under the guidance of industry veteran Jim Barbour.

According to Nataly Matijevic, a spokesperson who spoke with, low enrolment numbers have made the course “basically non-viable”, despite its yearly intake increasing over the past 23 years.

“There will be no further intake into the course. All current enrolled students will be able to complete their course,” said Nataly Matijevic.

“We could only previously offer the course to a small number of students each year in dedicated radio labs, but it is no longer viable to do so. [It] has run at a loss for more than five years due to the high costs associated with purchasing and maintaining specialised equipment.”

“We have considered a range of options to make it viable including increasing our student intake, however this could not be done without incurring significant additional cost.”

But not everyone is buying the official party line, and current students have labelled the university’s statement as ‘deliberately misleading’. Applicants must pass rigorous selection criteria before being admitted, with several being turned away in order for the course to keep within its 20-student limit.

“I suppose they’re comparing it to hundreds of undergrads versus twenty postgrads. That’s why the remark of ‘low enrolment numbers’ is technically correct, if horribly out of context,” said current commercial radio student Rob James.

According to current students, Swinburne charges upwards $14,000 per student to study commercial radio, earning the course $280,000 per year while employing only two lecturers. The course has also benefited from the financial support of Commercial Radio Australia, which it also provides to radio related courses at AFTRS and Charles Sturt University.

Australian radio industry leaders are also gobsmacked with the university’s decision. Leon Sjogren, producer for Fifi and Jules on the Today Network, said the “course was a driving force” behind his career.

Edwin Cowlishaw, 2011 ACRA winner, says the course’s significance to the Australian media mustn’t be undervalued. “Swinburne radio postgrad was the final piece of the education puzzle for my radio career,” he said. “The industry will lose one of its primary producers of talent if this course is disbanded.”

Chris Holland, acting content director for RadioWest, agrees. “This course has had such a profound effect on the Australian Commercial Radio industry, which should not be under-estimated,” said Holland. “Swinburne, we’re dealing with more than just profits here.”

A Facebook page has been set up and an online petition posted in an attempt to save the course.