Perhaps nothing is as exciting for students as the day they can celebrate their official graduation with their peers. And of course, an AFTRS graduation ceremony is something particularly special, as the event is put together by amazingly talented creatives.
In the last reporting period, AFTRS held two graduation ceremonies. And in my introduction to last year’s annual report, I was able to specifically highlight something that had happened at one of the 2019 ceremonies.
I wrote about being struck at the time by the words of a Master of Arts graduate. The words conveyed very succinctly how special AFTRS is as a school and an institution.
But this year there was no graduation ceremony at all. It had been planned of course, and indeed, preparations were nearly complete. But by the time graduation came around, COVID-19 had been declared a global pandemic, the country was in lockdown, and the School had moved all teaching online. Graduands missing their big day was just one of the numerous challenges the School – like all other educational institutions – faced in the second half of this reporting year. As a school, we have an enormous duty: a duty to educate and foster creativity, but equally a duty of care for our students’ wellbeing. Physical, financial, and mental wellbeing. The pandemic put that duty of care front and centre.
But let me take a step back.
AFTRS is a place that fosters innovation, creativity, and excellence. It is driven by an energy that I have not witnessed in many other organisations. We live and breathe our values of Mastery, Daring, Merit, Generosity and Working Together. We collaborate and are one team supporting each other.
I have spoken many times about the future in creativity and content for screen and broadcast. The markets for content are global, and the power of creativity substantial. The skills that we at AFTRS embed in our students are creating a generation of resilient, adaptive individuals who strive for excellence in telling the Australian story to Australians and the world.
This pandemic, while difficult for so many across our sector, has taken the growth of content to new and exciting levels. I’m proud to be the Chair of an organisation that, within weeks, made its quality content available online across Australia, and to worldwide audiences, and adapted its teaching to an online model, all the while focusing on the welfare of its students. AFTRS will come out of this pandemic a more robust institution. And with a new CEO and strong Executive team at the helm, the School is moving towards an exciting new strategy of fostering excellence and cementing its position as a truly national school. Through all of this, we have and will continue to put the student experience at the centre of all we do – and for now, that means continuing our focus on the wellbeing of our students during this world-changing time.
AFTRS graduates work across the creative industries in an increasing range of fields. Our 2019 Graduate Destination survey found around two-thirds of our graduates were employed in relevant sectors within 12 months of completing their courses. A testament to AFTRS unique relationship with industry and the expertise of our teaching staff.
This year, COVID-19 has challenged us to innovate, experiment and be bold in how we pursue our commitment to excellence. With the Royal Easter Show cancelled, our flagship broadcast exercise for the Graduate Diploma Radio, Show Radio, transformed into an emotionally charged but joyful podcast celebrating rural life in Australia.
We actively seek out and support the very best diverse voices across Australia, from emerging talent to established practitioners. We were so proud that this year our 2018 Talent Camper Alana Hicks won Flickerfest’s Best Direction of a Short Film for her Talent Camp production ‘Chicken’.
We share our knowledge and collaborate. Nowhere was this more evident this year than by AFTRS taking the lead in the development of industry-wide COVIDSafe Production Protocols, bringing industry leaders together to agree on a framework that has enabled the industry to get back to production, safely.
Our industry partnerships are so vital to all that we do at AFTRS, making sure we have the right courses and training in place to give industry the skills, knowledge and support they need. Through this COVID-19 period, we have been proud to offer industry targeted, good quality, free content, including weekly online talks and masterclasses – with Australian luminaries such as Phillip Noyce and Deb Riley zooming in from overseas.
Council expresses its thanks to all AFTRS staff for the work undertaken during all of 2019-20 to give practical meaning to these values. But of course, the period following the declaration of a pandemic stands out as an example of excellence, under the leadership of our new AFTRS CEO, Dr Nell Greenwood.
Nell has an extensive career in screen education and international film and television production. She has held multiple senior roles at AFTRS since 2013 and knows the School intimately. And it was her close knowledge of the School and the great people we have here that made the difference in how the School has navigated COVID-19. Her calm and supportive leadership during this stressful time reassured Council that we made the right choice for CEO. We look forward to working with Nell in the years ahead.
As Chair, I would like to thank all members of Council for their contribution during the year. We are pleased to be welcoming Chris Oliver-Taylor, CEO of Fremantle Asia-Pacific, to Council in the next financial year and we look forward to the insights his extensive experience will bring to the School. Thank you also to the members of the Finance, Audit and Risk Management Committee, and in particular its Chair (and Deputy Chair of Council) Carole Campbell, and the Academic Board under the leadership of Chair Professor Mark Rose, for their valuable contribution and insights. And on behalf of Council, I thank Dr Georgie McClean and Shomal Parekh for their contributions as Acting CEOs until we welcomed Dr Greenwood to the helm of AFTRS.