NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Looking back, looking forward: university creatives after Dawkins

Let me begin with a claim some will find problematic: creative disciplines have been wildly successful within the structure of a unified Higher Education sector. As counterintuitive as this sounds, it has to be admitted that the post-Dawkins reforms era has clearly demonstrated their value to the Australian university.

By Associate Professor Scott Brook

Let me begin with a claim some will find problematic: creative disciplines have been wildly successful within the structure of a unified Higher Education sector.

As counterintuitive as this sounds, it has to be admitted that the post-Dawkins reforms era has clearly demonstrated their value to the Australian university. It was the value of creative disciplines to faculties from the early 1990s that enabled a boom in the number and size of programs to meet undergraduate student demand in a new quasi market in domestic places.

So why does this account of institutional value matter? For the simple reason that it directs attention to a new set of problems emerging around graduate employment outcomes.

It was their value for the professional development of newly employed lecturers and emerging creatives that saw a steady increase in HDR programs across numerous creative fields (with APA scholarships being widely regarded as the most generous form of funding for emerging artists). And it was the visible effects of this development that supported a new focus in research and teaching centred on the creative and cultural industries, with the figures of ‘the creative’ and ‘creative sector’ becoming symbolically privileged key terms for a range of policy domains – from workforce development to national R&D.

Of course, the economic reasoning implicit in this narrative is controversial, as it is for many academic fields, but it does highlight a great success of the post-Dawkins era: namely, that both despite and through the economic logic of these reforms – a mix of neoclassical economics and Human Capital Theory – creative disciplines thrived.

The vocationalist agenda implicit in the use of employment outcomes as quality indicators is not about to disappear … Beyond contesting the metrics, responding to this situation will require creative disciplines to craft a much more nuanced and multifaceted account of the value of their degrees.

So, why does this account of institutional value matter? For the simple reason that it directs attention to a new set of problems emerging around graduate employment outcomes. Although the Dawkins Reforms sought to better align student enrolments with employment through compressing human capital theory within the mechanism of an income contingent loan scheme, the theory has not borne out in practice. We know that the HECS did not deter students from enrolling in areas with poor employment outcomes, and students in the Creative Arts are conspicuous in valuing ‘personal interest’ over employment in explaining their motivations for study. [1] Given the poor employment outcomes for most graduates of creative degrees shown in Graduate Outcomes Surveys (relative to other fields), the rise of creative disciplines in this period is strong evidence that course decisions are informed by factors beyond employment.

However, the vocationalist agenda implicit in the use of employment outcomes as quality indicators is not about to disappear either (witness the defunding of creative courses in the VET sector in 2017). Beyond contesting the metrics, responding to this situation will require creative disciplines to craft a much more nuanced and multifaceted account of the value of their degrees. I’d suggest this response – well underway within some advocacy-oriented research fields – will need to combine both normative and critical strategies, as well as to avoid the reflex defence of the intrinsic value of creativity. The default logic of the ‘special case’ implicit in the sector’s response to debates about research metrics will not work here; and as has been suggested, the success of practice-led research in displacing other research options risks deskilling university-based creatives from engaging in the kind of practical and engaged research the sector needs [2].

For the sake of brevity, let me list four strategies that seem to me capable of addressing the terms of emergent debate:

1 Curriculum development. This will take the form of employability and business skills development so that creative graduates can better appreciate their options within, across and outside the cultural sector. This will involve a finer appreciation of vocational and generalist educational rationales that underpin creative education.

2 Industry engagement to enhance initiatives to support graduate pathways and creative careers. This would involve partnerships in research and teaching with a view to developing and maintaining practical initiatives.

3 Graduate mapping that demonstrates the diverse applications of creative skills above-and-beyond employment.

4 Educational critique that refuses the notion that the value of courses is captured through the measurement of private returns to individuals, and demonstrates the continuing public value of Higher Education in general, and creative graduates in particular. To be plausible this principled defence needs to be accompanied by empirical accounts of the public benefits of the creative sector, and the key role universities play in this.

I’d suggest that the intellectual and institutional resources necessary for these strategies are available in the post-Dawkins university. The slowly emergent focus on employability suggests it is time creative disciplines deployed them.

 

References

[1] On the student experience of the HECS, see Angela Papadopoulos (2005) ‘Know Your Product: An Informational Analysis of the Higher Education Contribution Loan Scheme in Australia’. PhD thesis. Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne. For survey data on the study motivations of creatives art students, see Figures 13.1 and 13.2 in Scott Brook 2016 ‘The Creative Turn in Australian Higher Education’,  in R. Comunian and A Gilmore (eds.) Beyond the Campus: Higher Education and the Creative Economy. Routledge, London and New York.

[2] See ‘Editors’ Introduction: the critiques of practice-led research’. In ‘Beyond Practice-Led Research’, TEXT Special Issue #14. 


Scott Brook is Associate Dean of Communication in the School of Media and Communication, RMIT. He has published widely on the ‘creative turn’ in education and cultural policy, and has a long standing interest in creative graduates. He is currently Lead Chief Investigator on the ARC DP ‘So what do you do?: tracking creative graduates in Australia’s creative and cultural industries’ (2016 – 2018), an international team research project that follows the recently finished ‘Working the Field: creative graduates in Australia and China’ (ARC DP 2015 – 2017).

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Jenny Wilson — Thirty years ago, in July 1988, the Commonwealth Government introduced a policy paper that was to reshape the Australian Higher Education landscape and introduce concepts and ideas that were to influence university operations over the following three decades.

The changes brought by Minister John Dawkins refashioned Australian higher education and its institutions. Over the course of a few years, the government ended free education and introduced HECS, turned an elite education system into mass education, made vice-chancellors into CEOs, and turned higher education teachers into both teachers and researchers.

The Dawkins moment began outside the university sector. For while diversity was hard to find among the traditional universities, it could be found in many other post-school education institutions.

In the late 1990s I wrote about various directions of music institutions post Dawkins reforms … the main changes have been funding clusters, increased student contributions and the sector opening up to include more private providers … 30 years on since Dawkins, the tertiary music environment now involves many stakeholders (old and new), one in which total deregulation seems inevitable.

The very phrase “The Dawkins Reforms” evokes an image of Minister John Dawkins adding the flourishing touches to a paper that was, overnight, to disrupt the settled and contented life in Australia’s art and music schools, and send tertiary creative artists trudging in Lowryesque procession to the university ‘factories and mills’.

The 1998 Strand Report on Research in the Creative Arts was triggered by a decision of the then Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs to shrink the 22 categories in the national data collection, that determined the allocation of research quantum funds to individual universities, to just the “big four” and wiping the short-lived Design and Creative Arts research categories, “H” and “J”, respectively.

By Professor Jen Webb — I arrived in Australia in the midst of the Dawkins Revolution – a revolution that was the product of bureaucratic imperatives rather than community demand, and one that has radically transformed the culture of Australian higher education.

Going to Art School at the in the early months of 1980 was a shock. My previous life had to become over-ridden in order to embrace the new languages involved in manifesting and understanding art through many forms.

The period up to the mid-1980s was, for the technical and further education (TAFE) sector in Australia, a time of relative stability and consolidation. A national TAFE ethos began to emerge, with state TAFE systems working together to develop national consistency on curricula, statistics and credentials. At a Commonwealth level, education under the ministership of Susan Ryan remained relatively unaffected by economic rationalism. This was to change with the appointment of John Dawkins as Minister for Employment, Education and Training in 1987.

The British Empire mandated the export of a democratic concept of the nation that made laws on the basis of voting or counting and suppressed forms of customary governance that operated across the planet. For the descendants of empire in the settler colony, the mechanism of “nation-building” suppressed our memories of global colonisation that established our economic and social structures.

In July 2018, DDCA Board Member Professor Kit Wise moved from Head of the School of Creative Arts at the University of Tasmania to take up the role of Professor of Art and Associate Dean of Art at RMIT. NiTRO Editor Jenny Wilson spoke to Kit about his move to Australia in 2002, his time at the Tasmanian College of the Arts and on the changes he has observed in Australian tertiary arts education.