Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In praise of - Media Studies

OK, I obviously have to make a huge declaration of interest here. I'm a media guy. I made my first radio broadcast, aged 14, in 1967. I'm not exactly unbiased.

I've been in many discussions over the years, both on and off the media, about the value of "media studies", both as a subject examined in schools, and a degree course. In most debates, one protagonist argues it's a "soft option", while I defend its value and equivalence. Neither of us shifts our position, the phone-in guests usually take the "soft option" view, and we're halted by the traffic report (on radio at least).

Our 14-year-old daughter has just selected media studies as a GCSE option. She's bright (gets it from her mother), and is taking nine other subjects, including Russian, History and English Literature. I'm also a governor at her school, and the "link governor" for media, art and drama (each governor takes a special interest in a topic area). Accordingly, I've studied the syllabus, sat in on lessons, and talked in detail with the staff.

My conclusion is that media studies is not only academic, but it brings in many aspects of other subjects, such as literature (storytelling and the story arc), technology (computer generated image production), business studies (marketing of film, especially via social media) and psychology (acting and emotion). Getting an "A" is as tough as any other subject.

So why is it regarded as soft? We praise our top film-makers such as Ridley Scott, Gurinder Chadha and Ken Russell. We admire the talents of film actors like Joseph Fiennes, Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren. We lament the demise of the UK film industry. Nonetheless, many people sneer at young people with an interest and qualification in media. Funny old world, eh?


Ian R McAllister said...

You are right Alan, in that Media Studies covers a diverse range of topics. This in theory makes it an ideal employment level course, in that in theory even if you don't eventually get a job in that sector, you have other transferable skills on graduation.

Coming at this from a Recruiter view point, I have a two-part answer.

In part its Government derived problem, because the more students a college has higher up the academic level (ie: degrees pay better than HNDs), the more money the college gets. Then there are top-ups associated with pass rates, so the higher the average student graduates the more top-up money. Hence create soft-option easy courses and you get more students in (larger diverse range of input qualifications), passing at better rates = more money!

Secondly, let's come at this from a "what's the point of studying" view point. While academia and personal improvement is one level, practically the outcome desired is employment at a better level for a longer term. But there is no point in too many of what ever course if there is no market need/demand for them. Presently I conclude like many employer organisations - from the CBI to the IoD - that too many courses are created "remotely" from industry, and at too high a volume of students output. Do we really need 500 new theatre managers per year?

The answer personally is that Media Studies can be a real academic option, however its the quality of the course and the ties that the college has with the industry that will eventually define your employability. Too many see it as a soft option because too often the final output product as far as industry sees them is not employable. These students were sold a false story going in (you'll get a job), were taught a weak syllabus, and that resulted in a qualification which is almost worthless.

Yes, we need more engineers, designers and teachers in this country: just look at the approved skills list of migrants to the UK to confirm that. But that list also includes media writers and directors. hence if you are a student who wants to study media, pick a course with good academic levels (not all degrees are the same, and they don't need to be OxBridge to get you employed), and a college with good industry tie-ups. Employability is the key output

Alan Stevens said...


Thank you for your detailed and erudite perspective. The viewpoint of a recruiter gives a real insight, often missing from this debate. Being able to distinguish a valuable course amongst the chaff will be both tricky and rewarding. It's going to be tough for students (but then that applies to any topic).

Ian R McAllister said...

One thing that they could do instantly to improve employability of Media Studies students Alan is to turn the mainly BA courses to BSc. That would add a year in industry, and not turn out a group of academic but unemployable students.

I notice with most journalists that they undertake a post-graduate MA in journalism before starting work, with most courses approved by industry/NUJ. We have such a college in Cardiff, and its a great source for us for articles. Do other media studies professions have such a defined/approved route? To me as a recruiter, it would appear not

Babs said...

I imagine the view that it is a "soft" option is from the "academics" who have not taken the time to understand the curriculum and only see it as a bit of a jolly topic involving messing about with cameras and the like. That may even have been the case many years ago, but I'm sure that the topic has grown considerably and should be encouraged.

I'll highlight this post to my brother too - I'm sure he would have loved Media Studies today having had to work the hard way to become a film maker in Cumbria.