NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

2020 at the University of Queensland School of Music

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.

By Professor Liam Viney 

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. Within an ever more constrained budget, there’s limited capacity for strategic initiatives. We have had to be more creative than usual in rallying our resources to ensure performance and engagement activities occur in 2021.

Staff morale has taken a hit, with a difficult new teaching environment exacerbated by a creeping sense of guilt and vulnerability over the expensive nature of music education. We are working towards restoring a sense of belonging and community and have made inroads this year. 

One bright spot is that we discovered we could do more online than we thought, and there are even some pedagogical advantages to certain strategies adopted in some contexts. But this mode does have a limit.

In teaching, we face complex decisions fuelled by practical and philosophical concerns around developing musical knowledge in an external mode, and challenges in how to maintain equity of access and experience across the student cohorts. We suspect we will need significant central support to ensure our online offerings are internationally competitive but are concerned that we will have to achieve this using current budgets. One bright spot is that we discovered we could do more online than we thought, and there are even some pedagogical advantages to certain strategies adopted in some contexts. But this mode does have a limit, and we are all aware of the way in which the laws of physics prevent us from rehearsing ensembles in online and remote locations effectively. 

There is a renewed sense of the importance of connecting our work to the broader context and world around us, but at the same time a deep concern about the lack of consideration at the government level to the impact of the pandemic on musical culture.

In research, the inability to travel has been an obvious hindrance for many projects, not to mention the significant impact of not being able to mount the majority of live performance activity. Further challenges include obstacles in disseminating the results of research projects (for example, in the absence of in-person conferences) and the difficulties in connecting with individuals and institutions overseas because of temporary closures and reduced working hours (such as in archives, libraries, university departments/schools/conservatoria). There is a renewed sense of the importance of connecting our work to the broader context and world around us, but at the same time a deep concern about the lack of consideration at the government level to the impact of the pandemic on musical culture. This impacts both our research and teaching enterprises, as staff and students are anxious about what the future holds. 

Overall, there’s a sense that we will survive this period, and that we have it within our grasp to thrive in due course. The key to this appears to be re-creating a sense of community, belonging, and cohesion as a necessary starting point. 


Professor Liam Viney is performer and scholar with interests in piano performance, especially duo pianism, and new music. As a performer Liam has collaborated with dozens of composers, ensembles, and symphony orchestras. He is a leading authority on Australian duo piano music, with a focus on the collaborative creation of new musical practice and thought. Liam has commissioned and premiered dozens of new works for piano, two pianos, and chamber ensembles from composers in Australia and the United States.  He has been featured on eight commercial CDs on labels such as ABC Classics, Tall Poppies, and Naxos. He has served on the keyboard faculty of California Institute of the Arts. Liam is currently Professor and Head of School at the School of Music, University of Queensland.

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. 

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.

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.

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 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.