NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

The ANU School of Music – It’s COVID Rock n Roll here

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.

By Associate Professor Kim Cunio 

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 so desperately needed by the ANU.

Yet the big picture goes on, we are about to open a free First Nations recording studio and go onto country to record First Nations music as defined by First Nations people.

On one level our story is not remarkable at all, but on another level it is, because less than 10 years ago the ANU School of Music was on its knees, struggling with falling student numbers, a massive change management plan and a dramatic community backlash. Staff commented on how far we have come in recent years as we met our financial challenges with a proposal to make significant cuts but without academic redundancies. In essence our music school found a way to decide for itself where difficult cuts would be made in difficult times. At the end of last year we were pretty exhausted and felt we had got through the worst. Things are never quite that simple.

In 2021 there are still major changes in process and we have a modest drop in student numbers for the first time in five years as interstate students choose to stay at home rather than risk being locked up in Canberra. Yet the big picture goes on, we are about to open a free First Nations recording studio and go onto country to record First Nations music as defined by First Nations people. We are planning a major development to our performance offerings for 2022 and we are collaborating across and beyond the university. As they say the show must go on … 


Associate Professor Kim Cunio, Head of the School of Music at the ANU, is an activist composer interested in old and new musics and the role of intercultural music in making sense of our larger world. A scholar, composer and performer, Cunio embodies the skills of the exegetical artist, showing that writing and making art are part of the same paradigm of deep artistic exploration. The ANU School of Music is entering a new renaissance, again valued by the university and the community of Canberra due to the work of its academic staff and the fearlessness of its students.

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 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.

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.