NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Editorial: All in this together

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

Universities Australia has reported at least 17,300 jobs were lost and there are more to come [1]. In creative arts fields, QUT has seen a restructure and the closure of its Dance performance program [2], Griffith University and ANU have experienced program and staffing cuts, UNSW, along with other tertiary arts providers have seen mergers into multi-disciplinary mega faculties[3] and in late 2020 changes were presaged in Monash, Newcastle and La Trobe Universities[4][5].

Although the Government’s student fee restructure aimed at shifting student enrolments away from the humanities and arts seems not to have gained the traction it had hoped[6], we are still to feel the effect of restrictions to arts performances and exhibitions in the next ERA round.

While there have undoubtedly been major challenges, does the media “all doom and gloom” coverage reflect life at the grassroots, in our schools and faculties?

For this edition of NiTRO, we invited heads of creative arts schools and faculties to provide short pieces on how 2020 has affected them. While everyone’s experience is individual, certain shared themes emerge from the, surprisingly positive, benefits of having to rapidly focus on digital and blended learning to the sadness of losing valued colleagues through voluntary and non-voluntary redundancies and casual staffing cuts.

As a sector, one thing we do have in common is how time-poor everyone is, so we are sincerely grateful to those who took time out of their frantically busy days to share their stories:

  • Stephen Alderton (National Art School)

  • Joanne Cys, Veronika Kelly, Susan Luckman and Craig Batty (University of South Australia)

  • Damian Candusso (Queensland University of Technology)

  • Clive Barstow (Edith Cowan University)

  • Grayson Cooke (Southern Cross University)

  • Kim Cunio (Australian National University)

  • Denise Ferris (Australian National University)

  • Rebecca Scollen (University of Southern Queensland)

  • David Shirley (Edith Cowan University)

  • Liam Viney (University of Queensland)

  • Kit Wise (RMIT University)

  • Margaret Barrett and Stacy Holman Jones (Monash University)

More from this issue

More from this issue

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 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 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.