NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

2020 in the ANU School of Art & Design

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.

By Professor Denise Ferris  

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. During the year’s student representative meetings and through student evaluation results it was clear that students recognised the invention and efforts of staff and the trust was obvious. Planning an online graduation exhibition, which broke with a loved and established tradition, this faith in the institution was critical, allowing the event not just to occur but additionally, led by collaborative staff, for students to acquire new skills in online presence. 

Many SOA&D staff contributed reflective submissions, from deep understanding, offering ideas for future initiatives. However the Change Management’s obligation to meet financial benchmarks focused on salary savings, wherein a strategic vision must fit.

To support to ANU’s Recovery Plan addressing the COVID-19 impact, in November the SOA&D Change Management proposal was released nominating specific disciplines for closures as well as structural changes to administration. In addition to voluntary staff redundancies, the plan proposed further staffing redundancies. While the Change Management document identified the huge adaptations the School has made to continually innovate and position the studio disciplines, the proposal focused concern on greater financial sustainability.

The ANU received 483 submissions (220 from within the ANU and 263 external) to the request for feedback. Many SOA&D staff contributed reflective submissions, from deep understanding, offering ideas for future initiatives. However the Change Management’s obligation to meet financial benchmarks focused on salary savings, wherein a strategic vision must fit. External submissions considered the necessity of contemporary technology, the impact on the cultural sector, the loss of disciplines now rare in Australian tertiary institutions, as well as the loss of specialist expertise.

Post-2020 is robust, recruiting staff in Sculpture and Design, but proceeds with a slightly reduced staffing profile – through voluntary separations … and redundancies.

SOA&D post-2020 is robust, recruiting staff in Sculpture and Design, but proceeds with a slightly reduced staffing profile – through voluntary separations (6.5FTE academic and technical), and redundancies across the school’s academics (4.5FTE), gallery (.4FTE) and technical officers (1FTE). However additional roles, subject to expressions of interest, have been created mitigating the redundancy losses – two Level C (1.5FTE) and three Level B academic roles (1FTE and 2 x .5FTE). Technical staff may apply for roles in a new organisational structure.

The School’s longstanding reputation for maintaining the broadest range of traditional studio disciplines nationally may be challenged and the loss of three independent disciplines is confronting –Furniture, Jewellery & Object, and discontinuing Animation and Video’s stand alone courses. While the School is afforded greater financial sustainability, for the few individuals losing current roles, their sense of devastation must be acknowledged.

Within this difficult environment, there are concrete and positive signs of the School’s prospects. Just pre-COVID, SOA&D recruited new staff (4FTE) with ground-breaking practices and international reputations to lead their disciplines and contribute to the School’s stellar teaching and research. The proposed renovation and new building extension remain on the university’s infrastructure schedule. The School remains resilient, committed to studio-based practice delivering high quality teaching and learning across three programs – seven studio disciplines, art history and curatorship, and design.  

* ANU Change Management information is publicly available.   


Professor Denise Ferris was Head of the ANU School of Art & Design from May 2013 to December 2020.

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 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.

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.

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.