ACUADS Chair’s Report (February 2007)

Posted on February 27, 2007

Posted on 27 Feb 2007

Su Baker, Head, School of Art, Victorian College of the Arts

ACUADS Awards I wish to invite nominations for the three categories of ACUADS Awards: 1. Fellowship Award 2. Distinguished Research Awards 3. Distinguished Teaching Awards

The ACUADS Fellowship Award recognizes a distinguished career in fostering the development and management of a School of Art & Design. It publicly acknowledges the major achievements and leadership qualities of a senior colleague as determined by their peers.

The ACUADS Distinguished Research Awards recognize a distinguished career in significant research achievements and in the co-ordination, supervision, mentoring and/or examination of higher degree art and design research students. They publicly acknowledge the major achievements and leadership qualities of a senior colleague as determined by their peers.

The ACUADS Distinguished Teaching Awards recognize outstanding teaching careers in art and design education and represent an opportunity for national publicity and promotion of the work with undergraduate and graduate students in Australia’s Art and Design Schools.

Application Process
Full details of the application process are listed on the ‘Awards’ page of our web site and Heads of Schools are now invited to nominate outstanding candidates from their Schools.

The Executive will assess all nominations against the stated criteria and also reserves the right to make a nomination.

The Awards are presented at the ACUADS Annual Conference, which this year will be held in Sydney, 26-28 September 2007.

Applications Closing Date: 30th June 2007

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Individual Membership Through Employing Member Institution
Recent discussions about membership alerted us to possible confusion about the membership of ACUADS. As the peak body representing the University art and design schools, the institutions are the members and so by extension, staff and students are covered by that membership. We do not have an individual membership category. The issue of membership fees and other matters will be a discussion for the forthcoming Executive meeting and any comments on this and other matters are welcome.

CHASS Workshop, 27 February 2007, Brisbane – Research Quality Framework Panels
The One Day workshop held at Griffith University was very well attended with over 120 delegates from across Australia. It was an active day and the participation of Leanne Harvey from the Department of Education, Science and Technology (DEST), was welcome. This workshop assisted in preparing a group of invited representatives who were to attend a meeting in Canberra two days later. The meeting in Canberra did not add much to the information for the sector as there are many issues still to be resolved about the structure of the Research Quality Framework (RFQ) process. We will inform the ACUADS membership as soon as there is further advice from DEST.

Below is an extract from a proposed article for The Australian drafted by Huib Schippers and Su Baker, written after the Brisbane and Canberra meetings.

Arts forge ahead in preparations for RQF

Huib Schippers and Su Baker argue that the proposed Panel 13 in the new Research Quality Framework is not necessarily unlucky for the creative and performing arts

Malcolm Gillies, the former President of the Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS), called the performing and creative arts ‘the humanities of the humanities’, referring to the vast distance – real or perceived – in practice and approach from most other academic pursuits.

It is not surprising that this sector is quite vocal and prominently present in the run-up to the Research Quality Framework (RQF), which promises a more rigorous and equitable assessment of excellence in quality and impact of research in Australia.

Last week, 150 leaders in the creative and performing arts from all over the country gathered at the invitation of CHASS on the South Bank campus of Griffith University to discuss the progress to date on RQF Panel 13, comprising the creative and performing arts, design and built environment. This discussion was continued passionately two days later at an ‘invitation-only’ workshop session with DEST on the same topic in Canberra.

The spirit of the debate was surprisingly positive and unanimous. The sector appears to view the present model as a real chance to do justice to the diversity of research going on in these fields, embracing quality and impact of artistic practice-based research, and opening the way for a more imaginative use of Information Technology in the production, dissemination and assessment of research.

For a sector this diverse and ‘different’, the strength of the RQF as it stands now is assessment primarily based on a case presented by the research group itself. This allows for a great diversity of approaches and research outcomes, from journal articles and books to catalogues, curated events and exhibitions, designs, films and concert recordings.

That does by no means imply that everything will be accepted as excellent research. A compelling case for innovation and academic rigour has to be made. But it can be done on the terms of each specific research tradition, which even within a single discipline can vary enormously: excellence is defined very differently in musicology, community music, composing, music education, and the interpretation of classical masterworks.

The sector is a little concerned with remaining attempts to reduce research quality to metrics. Although a model based primarily on citations was quickly rejected as a dependable measure of quality for this sector, research income is still looming large and not very well thought through.

As it stands now, calculating the quantum of research income using the current criteria excludes Australia Council funding, which is the main source of income for artistic practice as research, and is itself thoroughly peer reviewed. Ranking of awards, venues and organising bodies for exhibitions and concerts will constitute a controversial indicator the sector will be asked to agree on: another proxy for quality that does work in some cases, but needs to be carefully qualified against other indications of quality.

Between them, however, these imperfect indicators do provide enough of a structure to assist research groups to make a case supported by relevant evidence. And we don’t have to start from scratch: the 1998 Strand report, the short-lived category H and J outputs from the Department of Education, Science and Technology (DEST), and numerous efforts towards Creative Output Indicators from within Universities form a solid basis. At the meetings, the creative arts peak bodies have offered to assist the RQF process to establish the appropriate output measures beyond institutional bias.

This may alleviate somewhat one of the key concerns about the Research Quality Framework: the actual functioning of panels that will get hundreds of extensive portfolios on their desks, which will inevitably range from close to the panel members’ expertise to very far from home.

Nine discipline experts in Panel 13 will need to deal with dozens of very distinct sub-disciplines. This means that a single expert on the panel will have responsibility for multifaceted disciplines such as visual art or moving image, and expected to seek corroborating advice from national and international specialists. This challenge multiplies in the case of interdisciplinary research projects. The principle is applauded, but it is hard to believe that judging across panels will not disadvantage such submissions.

In the current timeframe, three months in 2008 are allocated for assessing the portfolios. Even with the use of external reviewers, that would seem an almost impossible task for research in more traditional areas, and quite impossible for an area which is as dynamic and diverse as the creative and performing arts.

It is unlikely that the addition of three so-called ‘end users’ to the panel will remedy that. While an end-user may be a useful concept in marketing and production, the performing and creative arts have a multi-layered impact flowing from peers in the discipline to those involved professional practice, to education, the market, and ultimately audiences. All of these use research outcomes in various ways: as initial, middle and end-users, and should be considered to gauge research impact adequately.

The OECD asserts in its 2006 handbook that research is about ‘creative work undertaken on a systematic basis’, not about fitting in with predetermined indicators. To date, research in the arts has been rewarded for its similarities to research in the ‘hard sciences’ rather than for excellence on its own terms, as has much specialist and interdisciplinary research in other disciplines, such as law and environmental science.

With the current commitment of DEST to a dedicated panel for the creative and performing arts, design and built environment, there is an opportunity to move from the bottom of the ladder to being a showcase for Australian excellence in research. That is a prospect that should be ample reward for the efforts needed to make rigorous cases for quality and impact in this dynamic sector.