A fighting chance for students
Combat instructor Andy Fraser watches WAAPA students Adam Sollis and Henry Hammersla. Picture: Steve Ferrier

A university is probably the last place you would expect to find two respectable young men fighting with swords on a Tuesday morning.

But for the stage combat students at Edith Cowan University and the WA Academy of Performing Arts, it is nothing out of the ordinary.

Stage combat is one of the many offbeat units on offer at universities across the State.

It may sound eccentric but just like the style hunting and music appreciation units, it has been designed to prepare graduates for life after university.

Students enrolled in stage combat are taught "the art of miss-ing" as they explore how to act out violence on stage or on screen in a way that is safe and convincing.

The lessons are available to aspiring actors at WAAPA as well as students who are majoring in anything from business to history at ECU.

Stage combat instructor Andy Fraser said the unit helped students learn about acting and movement rather than teaching them fighting skills.

"I treat everyone who does it as an actor and people who come from different worlds really buy into that because it's something totally different for them," Mr Fraser said.

"From a movement point of view, you learn things like body control, partnership, balance, flexibility and breathing. It's an illusion of conflict with a whole lot of co-operation underneath."

Rutgers University in the US State of New Jersey made head-lines this year when it started offering a class called politicising Beyonce.

As part of the women's and gender studies department, the class set out to analyse race, gender and sexuality through the singer's music.

At Curtin University, students with an interest in fashion can take the unit style-hunting 101 to learn more about the concepts "cool hunting" and "trend spotting".

The popular unit looks at the development of trends within contemporary culture, focusing largely on what is happening at a street level.

Head of fashion Anne Farren said the unit was part of the design department but appealed to a broad range of students across the university.

She said students who were enrolled in the unit were given the chance to develop garments and work with an industry photographer to portray a trend.

"It's a taste of fashion without having to do hardcore design," Ms Farren said. "We definitely have a strong focus on making the experiences and learning environment as real as possible."

In 2003, then Federal education minister Brendan Nelson said universities should stop wasting money on "cappuccino courses" when traditional courses were in need of funding.

However, ECU associate dean of learning and teaching Mark McMahon said it would be wrong to assume unconventional units did not provide a valuable learning experience.

Dr McMahon said these units often helped students develop skills that could be applied to a number of careers.

"One of the things that you're doing as a university is you are preparing people for life, not just for the single career," he said.

"I think it's very important that we have scientists, for example, who can communicate and lawyers who can empathise."

The West Australian

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