NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

We gauge the response from our students to see how we fared during the early days of the pandemic from their perspective. The student voice is essential in helping us reflect on this life changing moment in time, so we can better prepare for change as change becomes the new norm.

By Professor Clive Barstow

Welcome to the 29th edition of NiTRO at a time of great upheaval both in our society and within the higher education sector. In the previous edition we touched on the amazing efforts of our academics, professional and technical staff in our various institutions by transitioning our teaching and research to off-campus mode at such short notice and against all the odds.

In this edition, co-edited by Professor Su Baker, we gauge the response from our students to see how we fared during the early days of the pandemic from their perspective. A number of institutional student surveys tell us that our students are highly appreciative of the way in which we prioritised their continuing education, but in some cases, they also highlighted the vulnerability of our learning systems particularly in areas where studio-based teaching has been our modus operandi. The student voice is essential in helping us reflect on this life changing moment in time, so we can better prepare for change as change becomes the new norm.

While we appreciate the recently announced and much needed government support package for the arts industry, the proposed changes to University student fees affecting the arts and the humanities presents us all with a challenging future in terms of access to education that is meant to be equal for all. With a focus on short term recovery in employment in a post COVID-19 context, the proposed changes will undoubtedly have a long-term impact particularly on our marginalised, female and indigenous students who normally study the arts and humanities in great numbers as a way of understanding our past to contribute to a better and more equitable future in Australia. STEM and the Arts are not mutually exclusive and setting discipline against discipline through a funding model that incentivises the sciences by de-incentivising the humanities is illogical at a time when employers, businesses and our Universities are screaming for creative and critical thinkers as we head toward a more automated workforce.

The argument about current employment is not founded on facts, rather it paints a picture of future work that is dependent on STEM skills, when the pandemic has highlighted to everyone the importance of the core human traits of empathy and creativity, shared values that bind us as a community and give us hope as we reset our priorities about what it means to be human again. Future employment will depend on our creative graduates more than ever, so the current funding proposition seems to present a step backwards in our long-term goal of improving life for everyone, through a broad and forward-looking education system that offers equal opportunities for all.

At this stage the proposed changes in government funding to Universities suggests a relatively small increase to student contributions in the creative arts compared to some humanities subjects, but the principles and assumptions driving these changes affect us all. As more details emerge about our specific disciplines, NiTRO will make commentary on the facts of how this will play out for our institutions and our future students.

On a brighter note, the ARC have now published the revised FoR codes for research reporting in Australia, in response to the ANZSRC review:

Most if not all of the recommendations submitted by the DDCA have been acted on. I would therefore like to thank everyone who has contributed to this important review and we hope that the new refinements and definitions will enable creative research to take a step forward as we advocate for the importance of creative practice-led research within our Universities. An overview of these changes for our sector is included in the News section of this edition.

So … two steps forward and three back. Everyone is suffering now and the arts and higher education sectors are not immune to the current situation and the probability of a looming recession in Australia. We must put all of this in perspective and focus on how the arts can give people hope where hope has been lost, how we can inform through a critical lens and how we can visualise a future when vision is most needed. I hope you enjoy this important edition of NiTRO.

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