NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

39 editions, 430 contributors, 28,000 online users: 5 years of NiTRO

As Editor of NiTRO I write a report for the DDCA board at the end of each year. This year, I want to share this five-year report with you.

By Dr Jenny Wilson

As editor of NiTRO I write a report for the DDCA board at the end of each year. This year, I want to share this five-year report with you.

The first edition of NiTRO, published on 30 June 2016, had the title ‘Watt’s Next for Creative Arts?’ reflecting the policy focus of the moment – the Watt Review’s Report on the Review of Research Policy and Funding Arrangements. NiTRO’s name was chosen to reflect the Non-Traditional Research Outputs that both united all creative practice disciplines in academia and served to distinguish them from other academic disciplines in the pre-‘Impact and Engagement’ times. NiTRO was forged as the communication arm of the DDCA, as Founding President Professor Su Baker explained in her welcome to the first edition:

We have featured 430 contributors from nearly every Australian public university and many non-university creative arts tertiary providers and from colleagues in Europe, North America, Africa and Asia.

“At the DDCA annual conference in Adelaide in 2015, a group of 25 leaders in the creative arts engaged in rigorous and expansive discussion following a series of highly astute commentary and presentations by invited colleagues. Our goal was to determine how to advance our profession amidst the volatility of the higher education sector.

The glaringly obvious fact occurred to us that this material, so useful to progress our profession, had been heard only by the 25 people in the room – and that was all.The discussion and debate featured only the experiences and perspectives of those of us attending. This would not do. These discussions needed to be more widely distributed, more comprehensively heard and responded to. And so, the idea of the new model of communication was born.”

Since then, NiTRO has produced 39 editions, each focused around broad themes:

See below for a recap of each topic with links to related articles. All editions are accessible from the NiTRO archive

One of my favourite editions was working with Deakin University colleague Jen Martin in 2017 to feature interviews with graduating creative arts students by student journalists at Deakin … from the feedback from creative arts graduates and participating students this was a great success.

We have featured 430 contributors from nearly every Australian public university and many non-university creative arts tertiary providers, and from colleagues in Europe, North America, Africa and Asia. Contributors include university leadership, alumni, arts industry, media, international commentators, non-creative arts academics and creative arts students. Our readership, 28,000 online users, having viewed the site over 56,000 times, reflects this diversity and attracts around 10% of readers from outside Australia. Although not a peer-reviewed journal, NiTRO articles have been cited in scholarly publications and included in university research repositories across the world.

Excluding Editorials and the President’s Welcome, the most accessed pieces for each year of publication are:

Student Voices

NiTRO is generally not open to “solo” contributions from students, but for a couple of editions we have handed over to students. Last year, we invited students to tell us about their experiences of distance learning in COVID and were pleasantly surprised to read their empathy and stoicism as they shared the challenges of this new way of teaching and learning with their lecturers.

Perhaps one of my favourite editions was working with Deakin University colleague Jen Martin in 2017 to feature interviews with graduating creative arts students by student journalists at Deakin. The pieces were included as part of the journalism students assessment and from the feedback from creative arts graduates and participating students this was a great success – a lot of work for Jen and her colleagues though so we are indebted to her and her colleagues for this “experiment”.

More recently we have introduced a “co-editing” approach – initially with DDCA Board members but now extending out to DDCA member institutions. Having a co-editor has been a great way to connect with specific current issues and new contributors and I am so grateful to my DDCA board colleagues, current and former, who have taken up this challenge. Our first DDCA member co-edit was with ACUADS in July this year and focused on Design Education, and our second with the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in August which attracted new NiTRO contributors on the topic of Collaboration and Authorship. Both editions were bumper editions of 10 contributions with the AFTRS edition having to turn contributors away to keep the workload manageable. 

All this highlights the collaborative nature of NiTRO. Each edition is the result of a collaboration of DDCA board members, the DDCA President, our contributors and of course our fabulous Web Officer Tom Barton who gets all these pieces to readable form. 

In 2016, NiTRO was asked to provide a platform for tertiary creative artists to share their experience, opinion and perspectives. I think we have achieved this over the past five years but – in the words of the title of the first NiTRO edition – What’s Next? 


Articles from the archives

  • Edition 5: Creative Arts Futures: Probable. Possible. Imagined (March 2017)

  • Edition 7: Creative Leadership ( May 2017)

  • Edition 11: Tertiary creative arts: The next generation (November 2017)

  • Edition 17: Philanthropy and tertiary arts: The future for sustainable art education? (October 2018)

  • Edition 26: Changes. . . . (March 2020)

  • Edition 31: Tertiary creative arts 2020: the state of play and road ahead (October 2020)

  • Edition 32: Brave New World: Taking the learnings forward (December 2020)

  • Edition 33: Assessing the impact of 2020 on Australian tertiary creative arts (March 2021)

  • Edition 36: Design Education Now (July 2021)

  • Edition 38: Exiles from Mainstream: How Should Creative Arts Programmes be Re-invented After COVID? (October 2021)

  • Research

    Teaching, learning and curriculum

    Community connection and engagement

    Industry and professional practice connection

    International connections

    Interdisciplinarity

    Health and wellbeing

    Reponses to government policy


    Dr Jenny Wilson is DDCA’s Research Officer and Editor of NiTRO. She is an independent consultant to universities and academic bodies and an Honorary Fellow of the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses upon higher education policy and its relationship to academic ‘tribes and territories’, particularly creative arts disciplines. Her book ‘Artists in the University: Positioning Artistic Research in Higher Education’ was published by Springer in 2017.

    More from this issue

    More from this issue

    One of the themes explored in the recent ACUADS/DDCA conference was how best to connect arts education and research to STEM education and economic recovery in a post-pandemic world. From my own discipline of cognitive psychology there is considerable evidence that scientific and artistic creativity can be viewed as manifestations of the same underlying cognitive systems in the brain.

    DDCA’s 2021 Forum was conducted in partnership with the annual conference of the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools (ACUADS) and took place predominantly online. This edition of NiTRO captures and shares insights from this combined event.

    The 2021 ACUADS Conference was developed in partnership with the DDCA to deliberately explore the theme of networks and their possibilities in response to the challenges and future agendas of the Tertiary Art, Design and Creative Arts sector. This partnership was itself a merging of networks, building upon many shared projects and instances of joint advocacy in recent years; a model and proof of concept for the value of further network building.

    Professor Cat Hope considers the potential benefits of an Australian Academy of the Arts. She asks: “How do we get a voice to government on behalf of the broader creative arts community that incorporates the nexus of industry and education in the creative arts?” It’s an ACE question.

    In mid-2021 the DDCA commissioned Outside Opinion to undertake a snapshot of creative arts activity in Australian higher education between 2019 and 2021. Responses from organisations in five states provided valuable insights into enrolment trends and contextual factors affecting the creative arts programs.

    As Universities scramble to consider new economic models, we are entering into a deeply unstable transition between “what we did to survive during COVID”, and the “new normal”. During this period, changes that were rolled out during a global emergency, are becoming fate accompli. Unfortunately these decisions are occurring before we have had a chance to find out what post-COVID recovery looks like for our sector.

    During the session ‘Ecosystems & Posthuman Networks’ ACUADS 2021 Kit Wise asked one of my panel peers: “The Makers Movement is such a powerful force, outside the academy. Do you see new opportunities for HE through a more porous approach to collaborative education? And has COVID impacted the Maker Movement, for better or worse?” I found this a profound question

    We live in benighted times, of that no doubt. So, what better to lift our spirits as the UK absorbs the russet hues of autumn than to break open our brand-new brightly painted orange building here on the campus at Arts University Bournemouth.

    In my blog, I wrote about the value of an arts education and the demise of creative subjects in UK secondary schools. I opened the blog reflecting on the history of the arts and sciences as partners in crime that co-existed in a symbiotic relationship – framed as “allies or enemies”