By Professor Dennis Del Favero
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. Publicly accessible data for creative arts in Australian higher education was also utilised.
The snapshot, and the impetus for this analysis, needs to be understood in the context of a long term contraction evident since 2014, which saw decline in performing and visual arts, modest growth in architecture and stronger growth in creative media and design. The intense pressure of the global pandemic in 2020 and 2021 intensified this trend and was compounded by ongoing legislative reforms and sustained reductions of creative arts staffing and infrastructure nationwide.
More nuanced responses to the legislation reform highlighted that the change was in direct contradiction of the government’s own research from 2019, in which the Department of Communications and the Arts found that creative skills were likely to experience relatively higher demand than routine tasks at risk of automation. The report particularly highlighted the employability of graduates with skills in the creative arts. The excellence, engagement and impact of the sector was underlined by continued growth in high quality ARC ERA ratings in 2018, higher numbers of ARC competitive grant outcomes during the period especially in industry collaborations, and growing numbers of creative arts programs in the QS top 100 international rankings.
In June 2020, fee structures for Australian undergraduate education were overhauled, to direct students towards programs the government believed were more likely to get them a job. Combined with the rhetoric of legislative reform defunding the arts, this increase poses a significant further disincentive for prospective students.
Throughout 2020 and into 2021 creative arts departments across the country have been subject to a series of reviews, restructures and threatened or actual closures. Notable examples include closure of Monash University Centre for Theatre and Performance and ongoing restructure of HASS and Creative Industries at University of Newcastle.
Outside academia, the creative sector was excluded from support by government in the early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown as venues were closed and performances cancelled and overnight. Recent support has been widely publicised but comes in the wake of ongoing cuts to public funding for the arts and real terms disinvestment.
The survey responses indicated that creative programs fluctuated or declined in numbers, except for design and creative media. The range of offerings decreased, as institutions closed programs with low and declining numbers. Significant decreases in international student enrolments in 2020 and 2021 were reported. The data show that actual enrolments fluctuated significantly between institutions and years. The relatively small number of responses means that the data is indicative of trends rather than necessarily representative of specific sectors.
Major trends were reported as follows:
Gradual but sustained decrease in enrolments in music and visual arts
Several creative programs discontinued following internal review by the University
Minimal growth in some programs driven by the closure of others
Factors were identified as contributing directly to these trends:
The rhetoric of job ready STEM graduates since 2014 turning students away from the arts
Institutional cost cutting targeting smaller and resource intensive courses
The closure of international borders, preventing international students from arriving
To address these challenges the development of creative arts education and research in Australia can utilise the following opportunities:
Leveraging strong international rankings for creative arts building on excellence in teaching and research e.g. QS rankings evidencing high number of creative arts programs in top 100 internationally
Enhancing growth through programs and double degrees that attract cross faculty students & researchers e.g. creative media programs
Shifting to sustainable business model that focuses on targeted rather than open-ended growth e.g. market differentiation between local programs
Investing in leading collaboration with STEM in growth domains e.g. design, environment, health & digital technology
Growing engagement between programs and industries e.g. embedded research and training programs in training and innovation precincts
Building alliances between programs, industry and philanthropy to develop public support & investment in creative arts, leveraging the international high profile of Australian creatives and industry
While each institution may have slightly differing experiences and capacity to capitalise upon the opportunities presented, this survey highlights the common challenges and opportunities across the sector that need to be harnessed to ensure strategic growth over the next decade. Such growth will need to be driven by closer collaboration between creative arts sectors and industries to address the underlying trends and respond to new currents as they emerge.
Outside Opinion is a consultancy that specialises in strategic academic and research development in the humanities, social sciences and the arts.
Scientia Professor Dennis Del Favero is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, Chair Professor of Digital Innovation at UNSW (Sydney, Australia); former Executive Director of the Australian Research Council | Humanities & Creative Arts; Executive Director of iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research (iCinema); Visiting Professorial Fellow at IUAV University Venice; Senior Research Fellow at The University of California, Santa Barbara and Member of Editorial Committee of Quodlibet Studio Corpi. His collaborative research comprises work across art, humanities, engineering and science, exploring the unpredictable relationship between the human world and the earth using AI based creative visualisation systems.