From the President | Beyond Metrics: A welcome from the new president of the DDCA

By Professor Clive Barstow

It is a great honour for me to be given the chance as incoming President of the DDCA to represent the interests of an extraordinary group of artists, designers and performers who work tirelessly to improve the quality of life for our communities through their contribution to the arts. The DDCA serves an important role in bringing together a wide range of disciplines and views by offering a national forum for critical debate through which we hope to influence national arts policy and decision making through a collective voice.

In this bumper edition of NiTRO we focus on creative arts research and the evaluation systems by which we attempt to measure it. The recent publication of the latest ERA engagement and impact rankings are fuel for the fire for many of us, so this issue I am sure will spur strong reactions and responses to what is an ongoing debate around measuring the immeasurable. Maybe Professor Julian Meyrick’s quote sums up the mood “For the past 30 years, Australian governments have conflated the nation’s cultural creativity with its economic prosperity. This has promoted a mood of metrical madness – the measuring of anything and everything in a way that is methodologically suspect, morally insidious and not a little daft”.[i]

Posing the question how far have we come? it is interesting also to reference Brad Haseman’s paper Tightrope Writing: Creative Writing Programs in the RQF Environment[ii] from 2006 when the Research Quality Framework (RQF) was the flavor of the day in Australia. In his paper he states: “This [creative practice] mode of research also needs to bite with the research industry itself - it needs to be recognised and accepted as a legitimate approach to research, and able to take its place at the research funding tables of all countries”. So thirteen years later how far have we come? Has creative practice really become acknowledged as at least equal to STEM research and is it valued by our industries as an alternative but essential contribution to life in Australia and overseas? Is an equivalence model in our University research environment the best we can hope for? Could we ever reach a point where we develop a language that better articulates our professions and one that is accepted and acknowledged for what it offers beyond metrics?

The question of value is approached in this issue through an excellent analysis of the current ERA round and its relationship to ARC funding by Professor Ross Woodrow, a passionate and informed response by one of our most respected colleagues. In comparison, recent UK data shows steady funding increases by both government (HEFC) and private sectors informed by the REF and including creative works and NTO’s[iii], unlike Australia where funding is initiated through HERDC which specifically excludes artistic practice and performance as research. Add this to the rejection of ARC funding for a number of Humanities projects last year and we have a picture of exclusivity and bias that presents research, as Professor Margaret Sheil comments, as a “purely transactional investment, blind to the benefits that accrue outside the ledger”. [iv]  The call for commentary on this particular subject has attracted a large number of contributions and it is clear that we still have work to do in developing a mature and respected position in our Universities and in the sector as a whole.

In my term as President I would like to work with you all to focus on a few key issues including the bringing together of our peak discipline bodies at times when we need a single and powerful voice for the arts, the establishment of a national alumni databank to prove and celebrate the long term impact and contribution of our arts graduates, to internationalise NiTRO as a way of contextualising our debates, and to realise the ambitions of the previous president Professor Su Baker in her vision to form an Academy of the Arts in Australia. The DDCA forum in October will coincide with the ACUADS conference in Melbourne where we intend to give voice to our recent PhD research students, the next generation of academic leaders who will hopefully help us see these ambitions materialise.  

The DDCA has a wonderful committee of dedicated and passionate people who will help shape the organisation over the next few years. I invite you all therefore to spread the word, to encourage students and academics both here and overseas to engage with NiTRO on a regular basis through which we can build a community of international collaborators that share our passion and commitment to the arts.

I hope you enjoy this edition of NiTRO

Professor Clive Barstow
President of The Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts

[i] Meyrick, Julian. Are We Counting Culture to Death? The Conversation June 2017  https://theconversation.com/are-we-counting-culture-to-death-79580

[ii] Haseman, Brad. Tightrope Writing: Creative Writing Programs in the RQF Environment. Queensland University of Technology, 2006. This paper was delivered on 24 November 2006 as the Keynote Address for Perilous Adventures: Creative Writing Practice and Research in the Higher Degree and Beyond, the Eleventh Annual Conference of the Australian Association of Writing Programs, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 23-26 November 2006. http://www.textjournal.com.au/april07/haseman.htm

[iii] Related publications: Lord Nicholas Stern Review, 2016. Building on Success and Learning from Experience:

An Independent Review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF).  Commissioned by the Minister of Universities and Science UK 2015. https://www.bisa.ac.uk/files/Consultations/ind-16-9-ref-stern-review.pdf;  Higher Education Funding Council for England Consultation on the Second Research Excellence Framework, 2016. (HEFCE) www.hefce.ac.uk; Research Excellence Framework 2014  Overview from Panel D and sub panels 27-36 (art, design & communications, languages, philosophy, media studies etc.) http://www.ref.ac.uk/panels/paneloverviewreports/; Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD) Consultation on the Second Research Excellence Framework, 2017 http://chead.ac.uk/

[iv] Sheil, Margaret. Stronger Together. NiTRO 2019. https://nitro.edu.au/articles/2019/3/1/stronger-together