From the President: Welcome to 2018

By Su Baker

Just when we thought it couldn’t get more weird, POTUS wants to arm the teachers ... well, that’ll work!

Anyway, back here in Australian higher arts education, we are presiding over some ‘interesting’ times ourselves. With a divided polity, seemingly - but not only - separated along education and value and belief system lines, we are finding an astonishing and baffling suspicion of ‘expertise’ and what has been called ‘wilful ignorance’ or the US legal term ‘wilful blindness’. This is taking on a dangerously familiar condition and as many might fear the foreshadowing of serious political consequences. License to not know any better and to act, to not seek advice from those who might know, and to distrust those who do, has been used to close art schools, reduce disciplinary offerings and cut resources to universities without the need for legislation.

Recommended reading on this is the recently published book by the Vice Chancellor of University of Melbourne, Glyn Davis, where he outlines the historical cultural and structural roots of the Australian university system, the current challenges and future opportunities. It calls for greater confidence in diversity of institutional forms and models of learning. For those in the arts this is indeed music to our ears. It does however mean that the system as a whole needs to understand this proposition. We must move with that systemic change, I believe, otherwise we will be back to our marginal and special-pleading status. In fact, we have much to offer the system as a whole. 

Whether this is impacting on all or any of us immediately, or not, there are clearly disruptive forces ahead or indeed upon us. This is of course should come as no surprise or even concern – aren’t we supposed to be the great disruptors?

So, it seems that from within some of the public and political rhetoric we hear, largely in the popular press, there is a scepticism about the value of university education and a failure of higher education to prepare people for the advancing world of work. Whether the facts bear that out is no impediment to these ideas taking hold.

Amongst the commentary is a call for greater integration of education with the world of work, and even a more serious question about the future of ‘work’ itself. What are to be the jobs of the future? We see the challenge to many white collar jobs being overtaken by technological and data management systems becoming more and more sophisticated and reliable. The once secure professions of law and accounting are being disrupted, and some may say enhanced by the capacity for algorithms to find things out. Of course, the human interactions between client and professional cannot be entirely replaced, but much of what is necessary to learn will be different.

As is my want, I will collapse many things together here, and draw a few themes together.

As to ‘what is a job’ and how to get one, well, we know the shape of the careers of many young people will be multifarious, whatever the profession. It is a cliché but also true that the jobs of the future have not yet been invented.

Many of the skills that we aim to instil in our students are undoubtedly the ones that will help them in the future. So called ‘soft skills’ of socialisation and communication, empathy and resilience, collaborative working methods, critical thinking, creative risk-taking and lateral problem solving, and so on.

If we build these qualities into the learning experiences of our students and that they build confidence, inner resolve and a constructive socialisation we will give them what they need in the face of the inevitably volatile future just up ahead.

Are we doing this? Do we know? The DDCA should perhaps be able to demonstrate this. Can we tell this story with confidence? That could be a project to develop.

We increasingly look at our broader communities outside Australia, through alliances with other like-minded peak bodies, in Europe and the Asia Pacific. Should we look to the Old New world of US and UK, or try to build a new understanding of what is possible from the expanding universe of our own region? This would align with the students’ world view as they look to the nearer neighbours for travel and life experiences.

The DDCA will continue to advocate for the types of educational experiences we provide in the arts where the study contexts are modelled on the embodied practices of the professions, the teaching being active professionals and the interface between study and the world of work is developed early on, through a form of ‘prototyping’, of rehearsing in real time, for a perhaps daunting but an undoubtedly exciting, albeit unknown future.