University of Ballarat
The Best of Both Worlds: Successfully Combining TAFE and Higher Education Writing Programs
I would like to begin with a quote that came to me recently from the most unlikely of places, a box of 'Fruitful Lite' breakfast cereal. It says:
Life is an opportunity - benefit from it
In TEXT (April 2000) Nigel Krauth reports on his investigation of writing programs in tertiary institutions Australia-wide. Among a plethora of writing programs from non-degree studies to masters and PhD programs (2), information gathered about these programs shows that there are only two which combine an undergraduate degree with an appropriate TAFE diploma delivered to students at the same time. These programs are the Bachelor of Arts/Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) developed by staff at the (then) School of Mines and Industries, Ballarat (SMB) and the University of Ballarat (3), and the Bachelor of Communication/Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) program delivered at Monash University and Chisholm Institute of TAFE.
What I will outline is the progress of our combined award from its conceptual beginnings in 1996 to the present, as well as some thoughts about its future. This paper describes the establishment and subsequent development of the Bachelor of Arts/Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) program. It is a tribute to the commitment and dedication of the people involved in establishing the program and the collaborative way in which it was done between two sectors which are often perceived as being at odds with each other, despite the rhetoric of common aims. As the first intake of combined award students are nearing graduation, it is opportune to include the results of a brief survey of student satisfaction with regard to combining the two awards.
The Bachelor of Arts and the Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) as separate programs have a natural affinity in content and outcomes. Bachelor degrees in general and arts degrees in particular aim to help students:
Where did this begin? Following the successful introduction of the Bachelor of Arts/Associate Diploma of Business (Office Administration) in 1996, both organisations, the School of Mines and Industries Ballarat (SMB) and the University of Ballarat, were eager to extend opportunities for students to study in two programs concurrently and have modules/units from each program cross-credited. The Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) program began the previous year at SMB and this program proved to have much stronger links with the Bachelor of Arts program than the Associate Diploma of Business (Office Administration).
The undergraduate Arts degree offered by the University of Ballarat in 1996 included major studies in literature, children's literature and film and media that were philosophically aligned with the content of the Diploma program. The Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) program at SMB offered editing, short story writing, design and layout, novel writing and other modules. It seemed logical and marketable to put the programs together and offer students with an interest in the writing field the opportunity to be enrolled in both awards concurrently.
Rationale for the combining of awards from different sectors had been strengthened by the introduction of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) on 1 January 1995. The AQF 'provides a comprehensive, nationally consistent yet flexible framework for all qualifications in post-compulsory education and training'. (6)
Key features of the combined award included:
Since its inception there have been no alterations to the basic delivery model of the combined award. However there have been modifications to units and modules available to students in both the BA and the Diploma. During this time we have been able to provide students in the Diploma with additional electives and some modules can now be credited at either first or second year level. Two years ago, the Bachelor of Arts program had foundation units added to its profile. Of the three foundation units, 'Australia: People, Institutions and Culture', 'Critical Literacy' and 'The Western Tradition and the Contemporary World', combined award students only needed to do one. A closer look at the content of these units found that 'Critical Literacy' was covered by modules in the Diploma, and that 'Western Tradition and the Contemporary World' had less relevance to the spirit of the combined award, although one can argue that in gathering knowledge for writing everything is valid. 'Australia: People, Institutions and Culture' fitted most comfortably with the content of the Diploma.
Behavioural and Social Sciences and Humanities, the higher education school which delivers the Bachelor of Arts, has recently proposed additional course changes which may, in the forthcoming review, require adjustments to the original model. As well as a name change to the Bachelor of Arts (Humanities and Social Sciences), twelve disciplinary majors have been replaced by four new multidisciplinary major sequences of study. These are: Social Inquiry; Communication, Information Technology and Ways of Knowing; Cross Cultural Studies; and Myth, Meaning and Memory. Students are now able to select sequences within these multidisciplinary majors, but again we need to look in more detail at what is consistent with their diploma studies while remaining within the regulations governing the degree.
In each year of the combined award to date, there have been 30 combined award places available. In 1997, the first year of entry in the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) guide, 170 Year 12 students placed this program among their eight selections for study in 1998. In 1998, these numbers grew to 206. Of these 206 applications, 74 applicants had the program listed in their first three preferences. In 1999, 180 VTAC applications were received, along with approximately 20 applications directly to the institution. It is the first time that this method of application has been available alongside VTAC applications and it proved effective in attracting mature age applicants.
Competition for places in the combined award has increased steadily. We have had no difficulty in filling the places as the program attracts students with a high Tertiary Entrance Ranking (TER). Applicants are also required to submit a supplementary application form outlining their previous experience in the writing field (if any) along with a folio of written pieces, indicating their interest in the field and their ability to cope with the rigours of the two programs. While higher education staff look at TER scores to predict success in a course of study, the TAFE sector prefers examples of ability. The two systems together reinforce the quality of students attracted to the combined award program. This is also reflected in the low drop-out rate of combined award students.
In 2000, it is time to ask students about their experiences of the combined program. Forty past and present students of the Bachelor of Arts/Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) program were asked to complete a short questionnaire. Fourteen students responded. Eight students were from the first year, five from the second year and one had completed the Diploma part of the program.
The majority of respondents had gained information about this combined award through the VTAC Guide. Other sources of this information were secondary school careers advisers, a visit to the University on open day and newspaper advertising. Eight of these students came to the program straight from secondary school and six were mature age students.
When asked what attracted them to this particular program, responses included:
Three-and-a-half years on, however, we still need to address a number of customer service issues. Students have highlighted the need for better communication between staff in the two sectors. There are occasional problems with timetables, the coordination of examination periods and issues with holidays. The amalgamation of three independent institutions creates the impression of a single organisation in theory, but not necessarily in reality. Such issues as separate enrolments (forms and numbers) due to different funding models and the non-integration of computer systems are examples of administrative issues which are yet to be resolved. These can affect our combined award students more directly than other students who study at this university.
And what of the future? During 2000, reviews of the combined award at the university level and the Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) at Victorian state level are occurring simultaneously. The outcome of these reviews may alter the way the current combined award looks, and a more complete pathways program could ultimately mean that a combined award is not needed because of full integration of programs between the two sectors.
As a small regional university competing for students in an open market, the University of Ballarat has something different to offer from the city-based, more established universities. We promote our courses by emphasising small class sizes that result in more individual attention, and the advantages of living and studying in a rural community within easy reach of Melbourne. The city of Ballarat itself is widely promoted as a 'learning city'. The Bachelor of Arts/Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) program at the University of Ballarat is developing a reputation for its innovative approach by delivering to students 'the best of both worlds', a positive, integrated experience of tertiary study which thoroughly prepares them for the world of work.
1. Clipboard, Hubbards Foods Limited, Auckland, New Zealand. No 6. return to article
3. The School of Mines and Industries Ballarat (SMB), the University of Ballarat and the Wimmera Institute of TAFE were devolved into the multisectorial University of Ballarat on 1 January 1998. return to article
4. These points are adapted from the Australian Qualifications Framework Implementation Handbook (2nd edn) 1998, p 49. return to article
5. These points are adapted from the Australian Qualifications Framework Implementation Handbook (2nd edn) 1998, p 38. return to article
6. Australian Qualifications Framework Implementation Handbook (2nd edn) 1998, p1. return to artilce
7. This list is adapted from the Bachelor of Arts/Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) Course Proposal, November 1996. return to article
The AAWP Guide to Australian University Writing Programs. TEXT 4, 1 (April 2000) www.griffith.edu.au/school/art/text/cwcourses
Australian Qualifications Framework Implementation Handbook (2nd edn). Carlton, Vic: Australian Qualifications Framework Advisory Board., 1998.
Bachelor of Arts/Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing)
Bachelor of Arts (Humanities and Social Sciences) Proposal for Course Changes, University of Ballarat, 1999.
Irene Warfe is Program Manager - Further Education, in the School of Access, Language and Further Education, University of Ballarat. Contact at email@example.com
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Vol 5 No 1 April 2001
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady