Prime Minister Tony Abbott has more than just wink-gate to contend with this week following reports that his daughter, Frances Abbott, was awarded a $60,000 scholarship “based on merit” prior to commencement of a three year Bachelor of Design course (majoring in Styling and Creative Direction) at prestigious Sydney based design college, the Whitehouse Institute of Design.
The scholarship, which wasn’t made publicly known to other students, stands at odds with the school’s website which currently states that it “does not currently offer scholarships to gain a place into the Bachelor of Design.”
As we previously reported: “For her three years at the design school she paid a grand total of $7,546 tuition, for a degree that ordinarily costs $68,182. Where the Prime Minister runs into trouble is due to the fact that he did not declare the scholarship on the Members’ Interests Register, which discloses political gifts. Mr Abbott has stated the scholarship was not included because it was earned on merit. But the nature of that merit is in severe question, with prior relationships between the Whitehouse Institute Chairman of the Board, Les Taylor and Tony Abbott emerging. Taylor has been shown to have donated large sums to the NSW Liberal Party, and evidence is emerging that Taylor expressly approached Frances about attending the Whitehouse school, and not a rival.”
The cover of Frances Abbott’s print publication, 04 EVA.
To boot, Abbott announced in one of the most contentious budgets in decades that from 2016 onwards the government will for the first time ever provide direct funding to private colleges, one of which includes the Whitehouse Institute. But speculative arguments surrounding any potential lobbying which may or may not have occurred or any “gifts” the Abbott family may or may not have received are moot as Frances’ scholarship (of which she was the second ever recipient) was awarded based on merit.
Or so they tell us.
So then, if higher education is the meritocracy we’re all lead to believe it is, how did Frances’ work compare to that of her classmates? Let’s find out. On the condition of complete anonymity three of Frances’ classmates rated her work.
WERE YOU AWARE OF WHITEHOUSE INSTITUTE SCHOLARSHIPS?
Student #1: No. In no way, shape or form.
Student #2: No, it wasn’t advertised. There wasn’t anything put out there in terms of scholarships being available.
Student #3: Absolutely not. I didn’t even know they offered scholarships to begin with.
Frances Abbott’s illustration work as seen in print publication 04 EVA.
HAVE YOU ANY KNOWLEDGE OF ANYONE ELSE RECEIVING A SCHOLARSHIP?
Student #1: No. No one had any idea about it. This is across many years of graduating students, students that are currently enrolled that I have been speaking to, no one knew anything.
Student #2: No, definitely not.
Student #3: No.
DID FRANCES DESERVE A SCHOLARSHIP BASED ON MERIT?
Student #1: One hundred percent not. And if it was a scholarship, where was the application process? Why weren’t other people made aware or allowed to apply for that scholarship. If I’m thinking of a scholarship I’m thinking of someone with amazing potential to do excellent things or they’re from a disadvantaged background but they still have enough talent to warrant a position. There were students who fit that bill either way. Students who came from a low income family who couldn’t afford the fees or people who were doing incredible work.
Student #2: No. There were definitely other people at the uni we went to that were struggling in terms of work-life balance. Those people were never informed of scholarships that were available. The fees were very high. There were definitely people I studied with who I thought were more deserving of scholarships either because of their talent or their circumstances.
Student #3: I mean, Fran was a lovely girl. I was in her class for three years. She’s very talented at what she does, there’s no denying that but there were other more deserving classmates that were more talented than Fran that also obviously didn’t come from the privileged background that Fran came from. So no.
Frances Abbott’s photography, as seen in 04 EVA.
WAS HER WORK ANY GOOD?
Student #1: It was average to be honest. In our graduating class we had some incredible students who produced some amazing work of really, really high quality. Industry standard work that on pure talent and potential should have gotten precedence over Frances’. So, no. Average at best. Her graduating project wasn’t anything spectacular or amazing. I mean, the fact that they said she got in on merit through the submission of a portfolio, that’s how everyone gets admitted into Whitehouse! You all sit down with the head of styling and you all go through your portfolio. That is how you’re accepted or declined admission, so I find it hard to believe that whatever was in her portfolio was markedly better than everyone else’s as to warrant that scholarship.
Student #2: Competition was quite high. But based on what I saw, relative to a lot of the others I studied with, Frances’ work didn’t really match up talent-wise. She wasn’t the worst but she was by no means the best or the person with the most potential, I don’t think anyone would be of that opinion. It’s been mentioned that she maintained a distinction average but so did a lot of people. I don’t think there was any passion or creativity behind it, in all honesty. It was average at best.
Student #3: She’s very talented there’s no denying that. She did a lot of fantastic graphic design and illustration work but the standard of her work was pretty much on par with everybody else’s.
Frances Abbott’s illustration work, as seen in 04 EVA.
ARE YOU OF THE OPINION THAT THE QUALITY OF HER PORTFOLIO WOULD COMPEL THE COLLEGE TO AWARD HER A $60,000 SCHOLARSHIP BASED ON MERIT?
Student #1: Nope.
Student #2: No.
Student #3: Probably not.
WHAT WAS HER MAJOR WORK?
Student #1: Her major work was a really cute print publication focused on young creatives like photographers and makeup artists. She did some really beautiful illustrations, her illustrations are really, really beautiful. But comparing that to the body of work of, say, the person who won the styling student of the year award, there’s no comparison. And that student is actually living in New York on a Fashion Australia scholarship. Her body of work was amazing and she deserves all the praise she gets because her work warranted it. She’s doing really, really well for herself and off her own back and paying her own fees and everything.
Frances Abbott’s styling work, as seen in her major work, a print publication called EVA 2013.
WERE STUDENTS AWARE OF A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FRANCES’ FAMILY AND THE FACULTY?
Student #1: We always knew that they were playing favourites. We always knew that Les Taylor was a friend of the Abbott family. Leanne [Whitehouse, owner, founder and Managing Director of the Institute] loved to say how Tony Abbott’s daughter was attending Whitehouse. So it became a very good talking point for her, I believe. It looked good for Whitehouse to have Frances there.
Student #2: No not really. When it first came out that Frances was Tony Abbott’s daughter I feel like even some of the teachers were surprised that they were related.
Student #3: No, not at all. I guess with Whitehouse because the classes are a lot smaller a lot of the students had personal relationships with the faculty. But not to the extent that is obviously was with Fran. I think with Leanne it was more about the prestige of having Fran there than it was about the quality of her work or creativity.
Frances Abbott’s illustration work as seen in EVA 2014.
DOES IT SURPRISE YOU THAT SHE IS NOW EMPLOYED AT WHITEHOUSE?
Student #1: Yes it’s very surprising. The fact that they’re calling it a “teacher’s aide” position is also very interesting because as far as I’m aware the Sydney campus does not employ teacher’s aides. So I was under the impression that she was actually teaching the bachelor of design course she had just graduated from, not as a teacher’s aide but as a teacher. It would be extremely rare for someone who had just graduated with no industry experience whatsoever to land a teaching position.
Student #2: Not really. They have employed other students in the past. So I can see why they would have her as a member of the faculty. I can’t comment on her position or anything because I’m not too sure what that is.
Student #3: I actually didn’t know that until this morning. So finding out that she did get that $60,000 scholarship and is now employed is kind of disappointing. I have nothing against Fran, it’s just that if she received a $60,000 scholarship then got a job on a silver platter, Whitehouse should offer that possibility to all of their students.
Frances Abbott’s illustration work, as seen in EVA 04.
Photo: Lisa Maree Williams via Getty Images.