‘uni made me dumb’: guest post by Koraly Dimitriadis

Koraly Dimitriadis is a Melbourne writer. She was one of the people who took part in the Overland master class on political writing, some time back. This is a repost from her blog.

Before I started university, years and years ago, I would read a book a week. I would let my imagination lead me into worlds created by masters and they would feed my soul. My first loves were R.L Stine and Christopher Pike, then Virginia Andrews. When people looked for me they would find me behind the cover of a book. Books taught me fancy words my migrant parents would raise their eyebrows at. Books gave me so much – grammar, escape, an appreciation for the English language.

Then came uni.

When I started my Accounting – Computing degree, I stopped reading. Sorry, that’s a lie. I did read – text books. I also slept in lecture theatres – my Accounting degree went in one ear and came out the other. My vocabulary died. My imagination dried up. My writing suffered while I wrote code instead of short stories:

Public String victorianGovernment = ‘clueless imbeciles’;

Excuse my assigning the variable ‘government’ with ‘clueless imbeciles’ but right now, that’s how I feel about the government and their neatly packaged ‘Skills Reform’. If you visit the skills reform website you may be excited by phrases such as ‘new funding to create over 170,000 new training places’ or ‘upgrade TAFE facilities’ and the one I love most ‘more opportunities for training throughout your adult life and flexible fee arrangements’. All these phrases are enough to get the average stay-at-home mother excited about the prospect of a new life.

Unfortunately, they may have to think again.

See, what I don’t understand is, why can’t the government just be honest? Why do they have to package the truth with propaganda and shiny marketing material? The truth is, with the changes implemented by the government in July 2009, it may cost you almost as much to go to TAFE as it does to go to uni. How much it will cost depends on which basket you fall into.

Take my course, Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. Before the changes, government-subsidised places were a maximum of $877 a year or $55 for concession-card holders. With the changes, if you’re under twenty and have no higher qualification, fees are only increasing to $1000 a year for the certificate or $1500 for a diploma. However, it is concession-card holders that will be stung – they won’t be receiving any more discounts when studying a diploma.

If you are over twenty or have a higher qualification, your fees will jump to a painful $8000 a year. Government loans similar to uni will be available, but only to students studying diplomas. This means that when studying a certificate, which is a prerequisite to a diploma, there will be no government assistance and you will have to fork out $8000 a year. But the government loans currently on offer are only a temporary remedy, their permanence subject to final parliamentary approval on 26 October 2009. I’d hate to think what will happen to TAFE if these loans are not made permanent.

Luckily I started my course at the start of this year and my fees won’t change much. However, if I don’t finish my course by the end of 2012, which is likely because I’m a mother, I’ll have to pay the $8000. I am thankful that I decided to go back to school before these changes were implemented because there’s no way I would have been able to afford the fees. I’m still paying off my uni debt.

The government complain that there’s a skills shortage but by raising fees they are deterring people that can fill the shortage. People will either decide not to study or to go to uni instead – uni is offering government loans and a higher qualification so why not? But having experienced both uni and TAFE life, TAFE clearly provides students with the practical skills they need in the workplace. Uni is theoretical, and when a student graduates and enters the workforce, they almost have to be re-educated.

My concern is how this change will affect the arts and in particular literature in Australia. Like myself, many people take up study in the arts when they reach a more mature age and have an appreciation for it. But how are these people now going to able to afford to study their dream and pay astronomical fees? Not only this, but what will happen to our beloved TAFEs that have nurtured the arts for so many years? Will they become a thing of the past while theoretical universities take over?

Apparently, there is nothing that can be done and the fate of Victoria’s education has been sealed. Still, there is a petition that might make some difference. We have to try, for art’s sake.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

More by Jeff Sparrow ›

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  1. It’s great to have light shed on this unspoken about undermining of TAFEs in Victoria – including the kind that produce some of this countries most exciting and talented writers. As writers we have more power than many to use our passion for what we know to be unfair to create change, to inform and to help others – which is what Koraly’s piece here is doing. Writers who want to say more can help stop the TAFE fee increases at http://www.tafe4all.org.au

  2. Having studied at both TAFE and Uni I have to agree that TAFE gave the more practical skills. For me TAFE was a building block to gaining skills and confidence to tackle university. It also gave me skills through a Certificate in Admin course so I could get a job and this is what young people need. Opportunities for real life employment and if these fees are introduced we’re going to see even more unemployment in the 15-25 age group which is already disadvantaged.

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