Under Chris’s astute leadership, OCA gained accreditation for its first undergraduate qualification, a BA (Hons) Creative Arts and weathered the storm of the changes to higher education funding introduced in 2012. Five more undergraduate degrees have followed, in creative writing, painting, photography, textiles and visual communications.
Chief Executive Gareth Dent pays tribute to the foresight of Chris and his fellow trustees in building on the vision of OCA’s founder Michael Young: ‘Chris saw early on that the rapid expansion of higher education that began in 1992 would have serious consequences for student fee levels. He has balanced brilliantly the opportunity the expansion presented for OCA to develop higher level qualifications while remaining true to Michael’s vision of giving everyone the chance to study the creative arts at higher level, regardless of their qualifications and previous experience of arts education.’
Under a less bold leader than Chris, the consequences for OCA of the 2012 changes in grant-giving by the Higher Education Funding Council could have led to a battening down of the hatches. Rather than playing safe during a turbulent period for the higher education sector, Chris maintained the focus on developing and investing in the experience of students. In 2011, the year before student fees at campus universities tripled, OCA launched its first postgraduate qualification, an MA Fine Art – the first MA Fine Art programme in Europe to be delivered entirely through online and distance learning.
Peter Bradley, the incoming Chair, has been a Trustee since 2010. He believes that the broad and expanding range of undergraduate courses offered by OCA, and the introduction of foundations courses for students who want to find out whether higher level study is right for them, give OCA a distinctive place in creative arts education in the UK and beyond. With students increasingly consumers of higher education, it’s easy for them to see a degree purely and simply as a direct route to a career, a stance Peter is quick to challenge.
‘It’s important that university-level creative arts education develops artists for the long term because art helps people become self-critical and take responsibility for their development as an artist,’ says Peter. ‘OCA is the only place where students can study creative arts through distance learning that offers an experience of such quality. You only have to look at the student work submitted for assessment to see that this is the case.’
Peter’s career is in the Church of England but his desire to develop himself creatively means that he identifies closely with many of OCA’s students. ‘I came out of school with a sense of being very interested in art but of being a failure. That’s been transformed through working with OCA and that’s what inspires me most in working with OCA – that other people might make a similar discovery. The legacy I want for every OCA student is that they carry on creating once they leave us because we have given them a structure they can respond to and set them off on a life-long journey of creative exploration.’
Peter concludes: ‘Art education at higher level is facing challenges nationally. The cost can be high and people may be uncertain about how they would benefit from investing in a creative arts degree. What OCA is doing matters deeply. As Chair of Trustees, I want to help broadcast the vision for arts education that is shared by OCA’s students, tutors and staff, introduce further new degree pathways and continue to invest in what we offer to students so that it reflects the most up-to-date thinking in creative arts education and online and distance learning.’