Writing courses at risk - have your say!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
By: 
Nicolas Brasch

Empty chairs in an exam hall
Writing courses at risk

As Chair of Writers Victoria, I was dismayed by last week’s news that the Federal Government is planning to remove VET FEE Help from the Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing (PWE).

This move is retrograde on a number of levels.

These courses provide our businesses and communities with well-trained communication professionals. The Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing includes the word ‘professional’ for a reason. While students are provided with the knowledge and skills to enable them to become published authors, they are also pushed towards developing all-round skills that could see them succeed in as many forms of writing as possible. Just about every organisation requires writers and editors to create content for websites, marketing materials, advertising content, reports, speeches, articles and blogs… the list goes on. 

Everyone who graduates from PWE courses have to have achieved competency in a range of writing and editing subjects. Companies that bemoan the quality their employees’ grammar can look to those with TAFE PWE credentials. If things are bad now, how bad will they be if the few remaining PWE courses at this level in Victoria follow in the footsteps of those recently deceased? In 2014, Holmesglen Institute of TAFE announced it was ending its Professional Writing and Editing (PWE) course, one of the longest-running vocational courses of its kind in Victoria. The year before Box Hill Institute of TAFE made the same decision. The year before it was Chisholm Institute.

The Diploma is also an important bridge between the Certificate course and Degree courses. Not every student has the initial confidence, experience and schooling to go straight into a degree, yet many end up there after completing a Diploma.

Vocational-education PWE courses provide many disenfranchised and marginalised people with a voice. Many of those who enrol in PWE courses at this level, both young and mature, do not have the funds, the confidence or the educational background to go straight to university. Once in class they are shown how to tell their stories. They are guided through the process of reaching into their mind, foraging through their experiences and imagination, and translating them to the page – whether in the form of a short story, novel, script or poem. They are taught about sentence construction and introduced to professional writers, editors and publishers. Most importantly of all, they slowly gain the confidence to reveal themselves and to realise that their story (and their life) is worthwhile. Indeed, it is precious. TAFE PWE courses give them a voice – a very powerful voice, particularly when they go on to get published, as many of them do.  Removing the Diploma not only removes a critical building block in the education of the next generation of writers but also in the type of Australian stories that are able to be told.

The Diploma is very hands-on. It is almost always taught by professional writers and editors who not only bring their experience and knowledge but also industry contacts into the classroom. I know many former Diploma students now working for organisations or government departments, large private sector organisations and the NFP sector. The millions of words produced by marketing and policy teams need to make sense to the general public. This doesn’t happen by accident.

These courses matter – they matter a great deal. Like the lives and voices of those who enrol, they are precious. I urge the Federal Government to rethink their decision.

Have your say

The Turnbull Government is seeking feedback on proposed changes.

The list is open for consultation until 23 October 2016. Feedback received during this process will be used to inform current and future versions of the course list. 

Course eligibility will be limited to courses that have a high national priority, meet industry needs, contribute to addressing skills shortages and align with strong employment outcomes. Courses are eligible if they are current (in other words, not superseded), and on at least two state and territory skills lists, or are STEM related.

Have your say by emailing VETStudentLoans@education.gov.au. Feedback must be received by 23 October 2016.

About Nicolas Brasch

Nicolas has been a full-time writer for almost 20 years. He is the author of more than 350 books (mainly for children and young adults) for many leading international publishers, several of which have won Australian and international awards. He also teaches professional writing at Swinburne University; presents workshops and seminars on writing and storytelling; and is the founder of Writers in Residence Pty Ltd, a company that provides writing services to the corporate market. Nic is the Chair of Writers Victoria.

Comments

It's appalling just how little the Government understands this industry. You only have to consider this proposal, let alone the Productivity Commission's report on parallel importation and the reduction in copyright to realise they think we're an indulged community. Then there's the comment by the SMH this week that being an author / poet is one way to earn LOTS of money without having to be around people. It's clear that the Government and the wider population know nothing about how hard it is being a literary creator and how poorly we are remunerated.

As an immigrant I experienced personal physical, mental and emotional trauma as do, in different ways, immigrants from war-torn or other countries often without familial support. The chance I had in writing was of immense value, it stopped me going into clinical depression and cope with unemployment through back injury and guiding my son and me into a more positive direction after loosing a mother, husband and friends all in the same year. I was able to go back to work within 2 years, buy a house and continue to work in my nursing profession. My son is also full time employed. Through tertiary education in Professional Writing and Editing I was able to write about my emotional and mental stresses, learned English in its nuances as a secondary language, found out how many mistakes I still made after 20 years living in Australia and integrated more fully into Australian society. Before I was just trying to make a living, but the integrating came with the writing course. I got my diploma in 2005.
Also, my computer skills where greatly enhanced and I feel that I have choices. I am 63 years old.

Thanks Nicholas Brasch for:
1. Putting the case for the retention of Vet Fee-Help for the Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing
2. Articulating so eloquently the educational, vocational and personal value of PWE.

Unless and until the government supports the arts, we run the risk of the world's most livable city becoming one of the world's most illiterate. Language is a cornerstone of cultured, educated societies. Its importance becomes especially more so when the digital era has language being butchered and when there's such a glut of words online that their value is being diminished. As a result writers are sometimes offered a pittance, or nothing, for their words and, worse, they accept it. Please help Australians speak loud, proud, tall - and well!

I neglected to mention that the Diploma of PWE is so positively life-changing and opens so many doors that I did it twice at different institutions. I started a writing business, trained many during its 13 years of operation and recently sold it after thousands of positive articles and lifting the literary level in many corners of various industries. I now write to inspire people to eat and grow healthy food for their future and that of their children and the planet. Words, used well, are powerful.

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