NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

2020 at RMIT

For all the storm clouds of 2020, there was also silver to be found. Many schools around the country commented on the incredible ingenuity of teaching staff, adapting to the online delivery of programs and courses in ways never before imagined.

By Professor Kit Wise 

For all the storm clouds of 2020, there was also silver to be found. Many schools around the country commented on the incredible ingenuity of teaching staff, adapting to the online delivery of programs and courses in ways never before imagined. For RMIT School of Art, we achieved a three-year plan of blended learning development in around three weeks, forging new collaborations between academic and professional staff, university and industry along the way. With great success: students responded with amongst our best teaching evaluation scores, even if their overall program satisfaction declined in some areas and many chose to defer their studies (which has in turn led to higher than expected returning student load). Capturing and sharing examples of best practice as well as innovation is our priority in 2021, deepening our engagement with the scholarship of learning & teaching. I note many of the greatest successes were using technologies “off the books”, outside of approved, enterprise-wide software. 

Learning new tools and pedagogies alongside home schooling children and grappling with what in Victoria was a traumatic and extended series of lockdowns was exhausting. While I have been never more impressed by the dedication and collegiality of my colleagues, this has had, and will continue to have a significant impact on wellbeing.

However this was not without cost, in terms of the impact on academic and casual staff. Learning new tools and pedagogies alongside home schooling children and grappling with what in Victoria was a traumatic and extended series of lockdowns was exhausting. While I have been never more impressed by the dedication and collegiality of my colleagues, this has had, and will continue to have a significant impact on wellbeing. We have revised our workload modelling tools to better account for this but will need to continue to monitor closely. 2021 will very much focus on care.

Online gallery openings were joined by distant overseas industry and academic partners for the first time, with genuine and valuable dialogue occurring via live virtual platforms such as Kunstmatrix.

As a school, decreases in student load directly impacted casual staff numbers in the first instance, although we also lost cherished colleagues (8% of ongoing staff) through a voluntary redundancy scheme, including the exceptional Dr Rhett D’Costa and Dr Robin Kingston. Change processes resulted in long-term professional staff exiting the university – for example, the entire school finance team was removed and replaced with a new, centralised support. Our galleries and exhibition spaces were also restructured, in part due to the inability to function as normal during COVID-19, although we hope they will be restored to full capacity in due course. At the time of writing, 2021 load is unclear but we hope to meet our targets (broadly a 10% decrease in domestic enrolments and 25% decrease in international). Of course, this in itself is not enough to off-set the budgetary challenges facing our institution as a whole. 

At the same time, new partnerships have formed and new connections been made. Our industry partners have turned to us for advice on how to develop for example online education programs, as well as other, shared COVID-responses. Online gallery openings were joined by distant overseas industry and academic partners for the first time, with genuine and valuable dialogue occurring via live virtual platforms such as Kunstmatrix. Post-COVID research agendas are front of mind, especially health and wellbeing. Most of all, our implicit sense of community has become an explicit need, now central to our thinking: peer to peer, student to student, academy and industry. Combining the best of online interaction with in-person engagement is the “gold” we are now seeking, as we enter a blended reality for at least the near future. 


Professor Kit Wise is Dean, School of Art and Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor Learning & Teaching (DSC) at RMIT University.

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Dr Jenny Wilson — The events of 2020 have ushered in major change in the university sector and for creative arts in particular.

The most outstanding recollection of the ANU School of Art & Design (SOA&D) in 2020 was the increasing and incredible capacity of my colleagues to develop new ways to teach and make, adapting quickly to offer students truly imaginative learning experiences.

The dramatic effects on international student enrolments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are being witnessed in all our institutions. At Edith Cowan University the impact has not been felt as dramatically as in some Universities that have a greater reliance on international on-shore students as a major component of their income generation.

Here at Southern Cross University (SCU), like much of the tertiary sector, we find ourselves much changed. Being a regional institution, while SCU’s share of international students is small in comparison to larger urban universities, the loss of revenue has been commensurate with size and so has still had a profound effect.

For students and staff at Monash University, 2020 was a year of loss and learning. As for all Australian universities, the rituals of university life were reimagined in ways that previously were inconceivable.

Transforming the structure of a university in the middle of a pandemic might not be on the top of everyone’s wish-list, but this is what happened at the University of South Australia.

Like most universities across the world, ECU has been forced to adapt in the face of the many and varied challenges presented by COVID-19. Notwithstanding the impacts of such challenges, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), when compared to other conservatoire schools across the world has fared extremely well.

Although 2020 was a difficult year, both professionally and personally for all involved, I am pleased to report that the staff and students in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) achieved a great deal together and we have entered 2021 stronger than ever.

When the National Art School campus closed due to COVID-19 in March 2020, students, teachers and staff were not the only ones affected. We also had to shut the doors on the public to the NAS component of NIRIN, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney.

The QUT School of Creative Practice offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, with majors in Acting, Dance, Drama, Technical Production, Music, Animation, Film and Screen, Creative Writing and Visual Arts. As a school that had previously taught only face-to-face, the last 12 months presented many challenges.

The ANU School of Music has been hit like much of the ANU by COVID-19. Our 2020 story was pretty similar to many other stories; finding ways to make remote learning possible; finding ways to bring our students back to campus in Semester 2; and then finding ways to make the savings envelope.

The primary impact of 2020/COVID-19 on the UQ School of Music has been increased pressure in all domains: change and adaptation in teaching, lost opportunities in research, and decreased engagement opportunities.