NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Impact of 2020 on the School of Creative Arts, University of Southern Queensland

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.

By Dr Rebecca Scollen 

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. 

A film course where students usually work together in person … saw them instead make solo mini-documentaries each week from their homes … The compilation … then became part of the Campus Reboot Project administered by Hartford University, Connecticut.

The USQ School of Creative Arts (located in Toowoomba and Springfield) consists of a variety of creative arts disciplines, chiefly taught on campus in studio. Most of our students study fulltime and are recent high school-leavers. As such, when we were instructed to “lockdown” in March and remain home until July it required a tremendous effort to swiftly shift courses to online, and to retain a disrupted and anxious cohort of students. It provided a creative challenge to our lecturers who with a week’s notice needed to arrive at comparable approaches to teaching “hands-on, collaborative, and specialist equipment-based” subjects such as acting, music, film, and ceramics. Strong dedication to our students and their learning needs meant that all lecturers rose to the challenge and each arrived at workable solutions. Their tireless efforts, which included endless compassion and care, successfully retained our students in our courses.

During 2020 we retained our staff levels and grew even closer as a collective. All staff supported each other; sharing ideas and words of encouragement.

USQ is known for its flexible delivery with the majority of the University’s students choosing to study online. So as a School with an on campus focus, we were fortunate to be able to turn to our University’s online expertise when needing to shift to this mode. Although the shift to online-only was difficult for staff and students alike, it demonstrated the possibilities of teaching creative arts in this way. By necessity it led to alternative ways of teaching students and including them in practical project work. Rather than cancel practical courses and direct students to theory subjects only, we adapted how we taught the practice and assessed the work. Not only did this work well for our students’ learning, but in some cases it increased the impact of their output. In one example, a film course where students usually work together in person to make a documentary saw them instead make solo mini-documentaries each week from their homes about the pandemic and their experiences of it. The compilation of these led to the creation of an interactive online documentary which then became part of the Campus Reboot Project administered by Hartford University, Connecticut. This international interactive documentary project recorded student experiences of COVID-19 from across the world in 2020 and is now continuing into 2021 recording how the world is changing for university students.

Overall, the need to teach online-only in Semester One 2020 proved timely as this year we have launched seven new undergraduate creative arts programs, with three offering a choice of fully online or on campus and the other four including a much stronger emphasis upon digital first, online delivery.  We are now in a better position to engage our current and future students across a range of platforms. During 2020 we retained our staff levels and grew even closer as a collective. All staff supported each other; sharing ideas and words of encouragement. Together we devised our return to campus and undertook the many risk assessments and COVID-19 safety plans necessary. Our School was one of the first in our University to return to campus and our students were grateful for our efforts. Upon their return students happily adhered to the COVID-19 safety protocols. Their attendance levels were very high throughout the semester, as was their productivity and the quality of outcomes.

Now as we enter Semester One 2021, we are pleased to see our enrolment numbers have increased from this time last year. At a time when some universities are unfortunately closing down creative arts programs, our University has invested in us and we are excited to offer the following: Bachelor of Creative Arts and Community Wellbeing; Bachelor of Design and Interactive Technologies; Bachelor of Film and Screen Production; Bachelor of Music; Bachelor of Television and Radio Production; Bachelor of Theatre; Bachelor of Visual Art; Bachelor of Creative Arts (Honours); Master of Editing and Publishing; and Doctor of Creative Arts.


Dr Rebecca Scollen is Head of School of Creative Arts at The University of Southern 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. 

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.

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.