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NAWE aims to put creativity at the heart of education. NAWE is a charity funded largely by its members fees and donations.

Professional Development Survey

NAWE research into professional development provision within university creative writing courses in the UK

1 Background

With the growth in the number of creative writing courses being offered by universities, NAWE is keen to support the HE sector in providing students with professional development information and advice. Working in association with literaturetraining, NAWE undertook a postal survey of institutions offering creative writing courses at undergraduate and/or postgraduate level in November 2005 as the first stage in a major action research project looking at professional development provision within university writing courses in the UK.

2 Summary postal survey findings

101 departments at 96 UK universities and colleges were surveyed. 27 responses were received from 24 universities and colleges, representing a response rate of 25%: The respondents were: Blackpool and the Fylde College, Dartington College of Arts, Edge Hill College of HE, Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, Norwich School of Art & Design, St Mary’s College, Twickenham, and the universities of Central England, Derby, East Anglia (Scriptwriting), Exeter (Centre for Creative Writing and Arts, Drama), Goldsmith’s, Lancaster, Liverpool Hope, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan (Cheshire and Manchester campuses), Middlesex, Northumbria, Paisley, Southampton Solent, Teesside, Trinity and All Saints, Ulster, Wales (Aberystwyth, Glamorgan, Swansea).

3 How the professional development of creative writing students is supported

At undergraduate level

  • Around three-quarters of the institutions offering undergraduate creative writing courses that responded offer some form of professional development provision, with half delivering taught modules focusing on professional development.
  • Nearly all provide access to printed/online information resources.
  • Four-fifths provide talks about writing as a career, drawing on the professional experience of their teaching staff, and just over half offer interviews with careers services and departmental staff. Around half organize talks by visiting speakers (other published writers, publishers, literary agents, literature organizations etc).
  • Typically, talks focus on making a living as a writer and paths to publication but some also cover working in different contexts such as education.
  • Around a quarter organize talks about the range of career paths open to the writer especially in broadcasting and literary agenting. A sixth arrange talks about training/professional development for writers.
  • Two-thirds offer showcase opportunities in the form of competitions, magazines, readings and festivals with rather less (a third) providing practical opportunities such as organizing a literary festival or editing a magazine. Placement and shadowing opportunities are offered by just over a quarter.
At postgraduate level
  • All of the institutions offering postgraduate creative writing courses offer some form of professional development provision, with just over a third delivering taught modules on professional development (compared with half at undergraduate level).
  • Around three-quarters provide access to printed/online information resources.
  • Four-fifths (the same as at undergraduate level) provide career talks about writing by their teaching staff but only a quarter cite interviews with careers services. Around two-thirds (rather more than at undergraduate level) arrange talks by visiting speakers, especially literature organizations.
  • As for undergraduate students, talks tend to focus on publication but rather more (half) also cover working in different contexts and careers in the book trade. Talks about the business side of being a writer and training/professional development for writers are less frequently offered than at undergraduate level.
  • There is more potential at postgraduate level to take part in readings but less opportunity for undertaking a placement.
4 Support after graduation

Around a third of the institutions that responded provide some form of professional development support (mainly informal) for their students after graduation with just over two-thirds tracking the careers of their graduates.

5 Professional development opportunities for creative writing teaching staff

Four-fifths provide opportunities for their teaching staff to develop their teaching practice and/or their own writing, either within their institution (teacher training and staff development courses, mentoring etc) or outside it (funding to attend Arvon and other writing courses and workshops, research/study leave for writing etc).

6 Key factors influencing professional development provision

Around half rated their provision as excellent or satisfactory with the other half considering that there was scope to enhance it. Just under half are planning to develop their provision in the future and over three-quarters expressed interest in discussing with NAWE/literaturetraining how they might develop their provision.

Lack of time was identified as the key negative factor by just over half the institutions, followed by lack of money and staff time. On the positive side, the professional writing expertise of teaching staff was frequently cited.

7 How provision might be enhanced

More time, money and staff were most frequently mentioned but access to external resources in the form of support from organizations such as NAWE and literaturetraining, a speaker database, links with employers and models of provision were also identified.

8 What happens next

Over two-thirds of respondents expressed interest in taking part in the next stage of the research which is to pilot different approaches to supporting professional development. We will be discussing ideas for possible pilots with them over the next couple of months and will then identify a selection to take forward during this (2006/7) academic year. Our aim is to pilot as broad a range of activity as possible which may include one-off and longer interventions, regional events, online and print resources, research projects, placement opportunities etc.
NB It is possible for institutions that weren’t able to take part in the survey to get involved in this pilot stage. Anyone interested should contact Philippa Johnston on 0131 553 2210 or at

We hope to develop from these pilots a number of models of professional development provision that can be used across the HE sector. A seminar will be held in spring 2008 to share the lessons learned from the pilots.

literaturetraining, September 2006