Sunday, 24 February 2013

Animation Wins in HEA Report!

It’s official? Animation are the apparent darlings of Creative Arts Education in Ireland!

‘While we don't have detailed data, anecdotally, except for in animation where almost all of
our graduates go into employment in the field in which they trained…’
  (page 19 para 4)

Let’s not run away with ourselves… Things are not as rosy as they seem, even in the darling area of animation.

After a long wait and much anticipation, the HEA’s Dublin Creative Arts Review Report is finally out. At first, I was concerned that our discipline was singled out in the Report’s Introduction…

‘Due to a shortfall in NFQ level 8 places, bottlenecks are particularly prevalent in disciplines such as animation and film;’ (page 3 top para). The bottlenecks issue is revisited more critically in the Report’s 3.2.3 section ‘Small is not always beautiful…’

‘This is problematic if the size of the local creative industries sector grows or if the international reputation for arts training in Dublin were to grow. In either scenario, it seems it would be almost impossible to be able to quickly scale course offerings to meet levels of demand.’ page 45 para 4

In animation, we’ve been at this ‘impossible’ stage for years – running at saturation in terms of student numbers and without any permission, resources, funding or space to grow.  How can we scale up our operation successfully and how will we get to areas of animation education that we’re not currently reaching? All whilst preserving the potentials of our students and grads - ‘future-proofing’ our kids with strong basic, core skills?

But the Report was far more critical (almost damning) in its analysis of more general creative arts education, pointing out that many creative arts graduates are either unemployed, underemployed or living in poverty.

“Many artists aspire to make a living from the arts, though most cannot.”
“For the vast majority of artists their income is below the poverty line.”
(page 17 para 4)

And the relative complacency of the creative arts educators is pointed out too…

‘Courses in the arts are popular and easy to fill but this does not mean that there will be employment when the students finish.’ (page 19 para 5)

Whilst recognising the broader educational objectives, the Report focuses firmly on vocational aspects… ‘there should be a reasonable chance of employability at the end of the course.’ (page 15 para 4).

I’d disagree with the inference that all graduates need to ‘get a job’ in their discipline. In animation, this would suggest that we would ruthlessly train all of our students to ‘fit into studios’. Instead, our determination should be to allow all of our students to do what they want to do within our discipline, or within a related area. Graduates may choose to work in studios, they may want to setup their own studios or they may want to develop projects in related areas like illustration, internet video, transmedia or app development.

I like the Report’s realisation about what we’ve long called ‘future proofing’.  ‘It is likely that future art forms may rely on a student having a whole range of knowledge, skills and ways of working.’ (page 30 para 2) Get with the programme people! The creative arts and digital media have been this way for the past twenty years at least!

The Report is also more than a little naïve when it preaches about linkages with industry…

‘Internships and co-op arrangements are among the most effective ways in which to give learners the opportunity to experience not only the work world, but also potentially the professions that may enter. (page 45 para 2).

This is easy to say, but practically impossible to setup, without a really deliberate effort on the part of the industrial stakeholders. Desk space in studios costs money and studios don’t always ‘get’ (or care about) educational outcomes. To get line personnel from the studios is equally difficult. Don’t get me wrong – I agree with the Report. Internships and co-ops are the way forward. The practicalities remain challenging. We will persist.

I did approve of the Report’s dismissal of the supposed hierarchical stratification of Irish higher education as inapplicable to creative arts education…

‘This implies a hierarchy in which universities as located at the top and other providers further down. This view cannot be sustained within the creative arts in which individuals that undertake technical and practical training, and even those who are self-taught, can often gain greater professional status and more income than those with higher degrees.' (page 28 para 4)

The big news is on page 31 of the Report, where the ‘constituent college’ idea I’ve been preaching for an age gets a big endorsement.

‘There is currently a problem of scale. One way to overcome this could be to maintain the individual differences and histories of the various arts institutions but for them to become constituent colleges of a larger university organisational structure. In a constituent college model, the division of powers is balanced between the central governance structure of the university and its constituent colleges.

A collegiate model gives the constituent colleges a substantial amount of responsibility and
autonomy while still being structurally embedded in a larger and more cohesive overall university structure. A ‘constituent college’ model enables the richness and diversity of the offers to be maintained while having a more coherent structure in which to collaborate. A ‘college’ model also is less likely to lead to a homogenisation of offers where the ‘strongest’ may dominate but rather makes synergies more meaningful. A collegiate model also lends itself to effectively maintaining and marketing particular identities while avoiding undue overlap and internal competition.’

The other big news is in the Report’s Recommendations, on page 47...

‘It should be considered whether current courses could be consolidated into a three-year Model.’

I believe that, between a move to a 3:2 course model, with a big integration of postgraduate research (especially research by practice), internationalisation of our linkages, a more matrix delivery of course content, and truly flexible delivery (online material, part-time delivery, special purpose awards, real modular segmentation of our current courses), we can surge forward over the next few years. Add in the consolidation and rationalisations which will emerge from ‘mergers and alliances’ (or a ‘constituent college model’), as well as the considered integration of industrial stakeholders and I believe we have great scope for sectorial development. Such a flexible model is described on page 39 of the Report…

‘Delivery of higher education in Ireland must be characterised by flexibility. Higher education itself will need to innovate and develop if it is to provide flexible opportunities for larger and more diverse student cohorts. The nature of the learning community and the modes of teaching and learning are likely to change significantly over the coming years. These changes will be supported through innovative approaches to research-led learning, programme design, student assessment and a quality assurance system—all of which will emphasise nurturing creative and innovative minds.’

I do hope that HR are listening closely to the Report’s page 41 recommendations…

‘The current employment contracts for higher education teaching staff should be reviewed with a view to recognising artistic production and practice-based inquiry; community engagement; professional partnerships; reputation and standing; impact and teaching expertise.’

These are sweet words to the ears of people like me who've entered education from a discipline base. I do hope that our HR and RPL policies change rapidly to reflect the efforts of staff. Am I holding my breath? Curiously enough, I'm talking to HR this week...

I completely agree with the Report’s finding on page 43...

‘It is important that all levels of higher education do not educate for now. Education has to be about educating for the future. Education systems have to educate for future jobs that do not currently exist.’

I've been saying that forever!  We must try to be ahead of the curve! Yes!

This is an exciting Report, identifying many potentials for our specific discipline (animation) and for our broader third level sector in Ireland. There are exciting possibilities in this time of disruptive change, but we can't waste time, nor can we be complacent.

It's time for big-picture, future-thinking decision making!


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