NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Creative Arts at SCU

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.

By Associate Professor Grayson Cooke 

SCU’s academic units have been re-structured, from six schools to four faculties, each of which has a Dean and various Chairs of Discipline.

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. Both voluntary and forced redundancy rounds have taken place, hire of casual staff has diminished, and we have lost many valued and longstanding colleagues, including technical staff in the creative arts with immense practical and institutional knowledge. SCU’s academic units have been re-structured, from six schools to four faculties, each of which has a Dean and various Chairs of Discipline, including the Chair of Creative Arts role that I have taken up. Amidst the normal administrative turmoil that accompanies restructures, I’m also hoping this may be salutary!

Creative arts at SCU has fared better than other disciplines in the restructure, and enrolments for digital media in fact appear to be on the rise.

With oversight of music, media, art and design, my hope is that this role will lead to strengthened community and industry alliances in the arts, and greater cooperation between staff and students in the creative disciplines. Cohesion is certainly required internally – having to study online for much of 2020 was an enormous challenge for students in visual arts and music, whose access to studio spaces and opportunities for collaboration were diminished and this loss felt very keenly.

At least one of our key tasks for 2021 is to bring meaningful experience back to campus, alongside continuing to develop more engaging online experiences, as many units and even courses are now shifted to primarily online enrolment. While some creative arts units have moved online or reduced offerings, the courses remain on offer – creative arts at SCU has fared better than other disciplines in the restructure, and enrolments for digital media in fact appear to be on the rise. But the combination of COVID-19’s vacillating financial and social burden, and the Job-ready changes, coupled with a regional location, makes 2021 a largely unknown prospect.

Like many, I suspect, I vacillate between trepidation and optimism, the emotional superposition of life in a global pandemic.


Born in New Zealand and based in Australia, Grayson Cooke is an interdisciplinary scholar and media artist, Associate Professor of Media and Chair of Creative Arts at Southern Cross University. Grayson has presented media art and live audio-visual performance works in major galleries and festivals in Australia and internationally, and as a scholar he has published widely in academic journals. He holds an interdisciplinary PhD from Concordia University in Montreal.

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.

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 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.