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Emily Carr President Ron Burnett on his knighthood, parents, and the ideal school

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VO: What are your challenges and what can we look forward to from Emily Carr?

Right now, it's extremely challenging to be a university president. Public funding is declining, (but) the actual cost of providing high-quality education is not declining – it's increasing.

So institutions like Emily Carr have had to rethink their entire mode of operation and develop new sources of revenue and begin to think much more about what they spend, and how they spend. We've done this and have been successful in a large measure because the entire community has contributed to making this place work even though we have less money than most universities.

We're a passionate group of people who work here and they just always make things happen...We have more international students than any other art school in Canada. Probably around 20 per cent of our total population, from 60 countries – it's quite remarkable. And we have a research unit that is gathering in more research than we could ever imagined, in all sorts of areas from health, right through to digital media.

So, meeting the challenges today is about balancing the relationship between where your money is going to come from to operate and, and trying as much as possible not to burden the students, but at the same time, trying to figure out a revenue-expense model that will allows (us) to retain and grow the quality of the learning and teaching environment.

VO: What kinds of solutions are you experimenting with?
RB: We're experimenting with everything, actually from new classroom models right through to lifelong learning.
We had a symposium that brought a large number of people from around the world just to discuss many of these issues. It was a leadership symposium that was co-managed by the European League of Institutes of the Arts and Emily Carr, and brought in people from about 20 countries, and 50 or 60 different institutions. We spent three-and-a-half days really exploring precisely how we can manage all the complexity surrounding change in art and design education.

Simultaneously, masters students created the QR_U Open School. This was an environment of open discussion, classes, exhibitions and other activities held over a ten day period.

It was an experiment in the Concourse gallery– a really transformative way of providing context for debate, classes were held there...It became a place where people stopped and listened, and it's actually a model of the art school that I'd love to create.

The digital era

VO: What are your art students like, in this digital age?

RB: It might hearten you to know that the vast majority of so called digital students, or the generation that is supposed to be the most digital, are actually very interested in analogue crafts like painting.

They (the youth) want materiality and they want the virtual including social media, so it's a little bit different than the press is categorizing it...the digital generation moves fluidly between different forms and media.

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