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Visual Arts Portfolio Workshop

The Visual Arts Portfolio Workshop prompted students not on tertiary pathways to aspire to university


The Visual Arts Portfolio Workshop provides senior secondary students with admission information about tertiary visual arts and design arts programs, augmented by practical art making experiences typical of first year undergraduate study. The program was developed by The Australian National University (ANU) in 2014 as a schools-based outreach component of the existing ANU Regional Partnerships Program (RPP), which works collaboratively with fifteen regional secondary schools to provide educational enrichment and aspiration building programs.


  • The Australian National University
    >>Access and Inclusion
    >>ANU School of Art
  • Secondary schools in regional south-east NSW.

The Visual Arts Portfolio Workshop aims to build aspiration in, and to academically support, Low Socio-Economic Status (LSES) regional secondary school students who have the potential to enrol in tertiary visual or design arts courses. It recognises that these students may not aspire to participate due to a lack of awareness about the courses and how to apply for them. The program informs students and teachers about the portfolio and interview process for application; explains that admission to many of these courses does not require an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR); and raises awareness about scholarships.

Provision of HEPPP-funded, ANU-organised, arts enrichment programs in partnership schools since 2010 has established positive collaborative relationships between school teachers and ANU. This has enabled strong uptake of the program, with 80 per cent of partnership schools participating.

In June and July 2014, the program ran in 12 partnership schools in regional south-east NSW. Alongside their teachers, groups of 15–25 students from Years 10–12 participated in a three-hour program, involving 220 students in total.

Activities were developed and delivered by a recent ANU graduate who maintains a professional art practice and who has experience teaching undergraduate visual arts courses, reviewing portfolio applications, and conducting entry interviews.

Supported by images of works made by recent graduates of the ANU School of Art, the program articulated areas of specialisation that are available in undergraduate visual arts and design arts courses. Skills taught in different specialist areas were described, such as animation, glassblowing, or textile design. Students browsed sample entry portfolios and visual diaries, supported by facilitated discussion to critique portfolio content. Students then worked in groups to assemble mock-up portfolios targeting entry into specific specialist areas.

The program was punctuated by observational drawing activities. Charcoal and ink drawing techniques were taught, with an emphasis on experimentation. The entry interview process was described and sample questions were clearly communicated. Information about scholarships was discussed, and reinforced via handouts in resource bags provided to participants. Resource bags also contained relevant undergraduate program pamphlets, ANU Open Day information and a DVD containing stories of rural students at university.

Afterwards participants received certificates of participation, and were offered a subsidy to assist with the expense of travelling to Canberra to attend a portfolio review session during ANU Open Day.

Student and teacher feedback indicates the program has a high degree of impact. Students appreciated the informative and hands-on nature of the program. Teachers’ comments were consistently appreciative:

“Money is tight everywhere for these extension and specialist programs. We are grateful for the investment in our students.”

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being ‘not interested at all’ and 10 being ‘very interested,’ students indicated their interest in going to university before and after participating in the program. Of particular note, the 11 per cent of students who indicated a very low level of interest in university before participating (circling 1 or 2), were on average, 37 per cent more interested (circling numbers up to 8) in going to university after participating in the program.

This program prompted students not on tertiary pathways to aspire to university. Five students subsequently travelled to the ANU Open Day for a portfolio review.

The RPP has consistently offered visual arts programs to schools, including an Artist in Schools residency program in partnership with the ANU School of Art; annual artist-led gallery education programs in collaboration with Bega Valley Regional Gallery; and campus-based visual arts focus visits. The success of this new initiative depended on the quality, appropriateness and reliability of preceding visual arts activities within the RPP, as well as the established trusting relationships formed between ANU and its partnership schools since 2010.

One factor influencing its success is the shared sense of purpose school teachers and university staff have about the aims and objectives of the programs. Partners understand that HEPPP-funded programs are not institution-specific recruitment initiatives, rather the objectives are student focused, with an emphasis on educational enrichment and aspiration building within a capacity-building methodology. The HEPPP has also enabled partners to take a long-term view with regard to tangible outcomes, with enrichment activities operating across all secondary years. Importantly, teachers feel supported and valued as contributors to the success of the partnership.

The combination of on-campus and schools-based activities is a strength. Campus-based programs transform the concept of university into a reality for students; and schools-based outreach characterises the most accessible form of programs for schools to participate in because they require minimal administration by teachers. Providing programs at little or no cost to the schools is a universal strength of the partnerships.

Due to the new Higher Education Participation Program (HEPP) funding model, it is not clear how the program will be implemented in 2015. Ideally, future versions of this program would endeavour to sustain engagement of repeat participants by varying the program emphasis between the visual and design arts, and incorporate new practical activities such as printmaking. Additional improvements include involving careers advisers in the program, and articulating graduate student profiles, to enhance understanding of the diverse career opportunities that can result from study in these areas.

The ongoing provision of accessible visual arts enrichment across Years 7–12 will occur via the newly developed ANU Art and Environment, Exhibition in a Suitcase outreach resource. The Suitcase will be available for loan for periods of up to four weeks from Term 1 2015.


This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.

Posted 6 July 2015 Posted in General, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote