The highly regarded RMIT TAFE Diploma of Professional Writing & Editing (RMIT PWE) program is no more. The program will be offered as an associate degree this year charging $5648 a year in fees.
An associate degree is exactly the same as an advanced diploma but is considered a higher degree qualification so you pay more.
I ran RMIT PWE from 1997–2000 and was its program director until 2004. When I left, it cost $500 to study full time at RMIT PWE. The new fees are an increase of 1000 percent. Over the previous 20 years its fees had risen by $100.00.
In the last 22 years, RMIT PWE has produced more than 50 novelists, countless playwrights and screenwriters, editors and writers of all forms. Most of the students lived in the inner suburbs of North Melbourne, Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood and St Kilda.
Real estate marketers did to these suburbs in the 1980s what RMIT and the state government has done to RMIT PWE over the last six years.
They have driven down creativity to its lowest common denominator and driven out those who gave those suburbs panache in the first place – writers, painters and musicians.
When I taught in RMIT PWE I had students who were heroin addicts, schizophrenics, homeless kids, sex addicts, depressives, alcoholics, princesses, know-it-alls, psychiatrists, doctors, kids who had done jail-time, house wives, bullshit artists – you name it, they rolled up to study at RMIT PWE in Carlton. Many earned that brief title ‘writer’.
The students not only got published, they got jobs as magazine writers, editors, copywriters, journalists, travel writers, web builders and much more. For those of you who don’t know the joy of getting paid for writing, it makes it worth getting up in the morning.
I would not have sacrificed one of them on the altar of expediency.
So what has happened? Greed and cowardice. The incompetent Brumby Government revamped the training system in 2009 that effectively destroyed TAFE art programs by raising fees to astronomical heights. Baillieu is carrying on Brumby’s anti-TAFE mission but in slow motion.
RMIT turned the thumbscrews by appointing statisticians and accountants to run PWE in the mid 2000s and many of the senior staff simply let it happen. Even though the program made a profit of $200,000 per year, they wanted more. Much more.
So they created an associate degree in the hope that the same people will ante up $5648 per year in fees. It’s the same kind of low-level bastardry you get when you open up your power or phone bill.
I can guarantee you that when Tim Winton studied creative writing at Curtin University in Perth, he was not paying $5648 a year in fees.
The bean counters have destroyed not only PWE but also its unique student market, created by word-of-mouth over 22 years. Inch by inch they lowered the standards, withheld resources, and sacked staff yet asked for more and more money.
Most of you won’t know Judy Duffy. She was RMIT PWE’s leader in the early 90s. She made the program famous. She was feisty to the point of aggressive but she was a soft touch. Irish heritage bristled beneath her skin. She was passionate about writing and writers.
Duffy realised that if text-based creativity was to boom in Victoria, it needed a combination of mature aged and young students who would ‘kill’ to get published – who would ransom their own grandmother for a job as an editor or multimedia writer.
Judy died in 2001. She would be rolling over in her grave is she saw what has befallen her beloved program.
It extraordinary that RMIT is raising the price of education when the Federal Government and a whole raft of educational agencies is exhorting young people to go to TAFE.
But if you’re an accountant or statistician, your eye is on the bottom line and not on the future.
Vocational education has a proud history in Victoria. It’s first ‘TAFE’ was the Sandhurst Mechanics Institute, built in 1856 on the goldfields of Bendigo. This was just two years after the Eureka Stockade.
We need the spirit of Judy Duffy and Peter Lalor to stop the accountants from killing off a Victorian icon.
Malcolm King is the former program director, RMIT Creative Writing.