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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 17:15 GMT
Is media studies a doss? Discuss
Laid back
Watch and learn - how media studies students are percieved
Pity the poor media studies students.

Lampooned by their peers for "studying" soap operas, sneered at by industry folk for not getting their hands dirty, and now rubbished by England's Chief Schools Inspector, Chris Woodhead.

Mr Woodhead lived up to his reputation for controversy when, on Thursday, he cited the subject as being a one-way ticket to the dole queue.

"If you embark on a degree course and finish it and then you find yourself unemployed, is that enhancing your life? I don't think so."

Among media employers, he said, there was "profound scepticism as to whether these courses teach students the skills and understanding they want".

It's not a new criticism, Mr Woodhead acknowledged. But evidently media students are still fighting the sort of prejudice that used to be directed at sociology scholars in the 70s and 80s.

So is a media studies degree really a waste of time? Is it just an excuse for lazy students to collapse in front of the television and, three years later produce a 12,000-word dissertation deconstructing plotlines of The Bill?

here to taste some media studies exam questions

The criticism is valid in part, David Marsland, professor of health at Brunel University, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Biscuit and teas
Really want a job in the media? Then make the tea
"There's a lot of nonsense in it. It's not because it's vocational, it's because it's new, it has not really got a literature. It has not got established principles and it's taught variably - some places well, some places badly."

It's certainly taught widely. Twenty years ago only two universities taught media studies. Today almost every place of higher education offers it, or a close alternative, as a full-blown course or an option.

It is also now a highly popular GCSE and A level course.

This is not a result of dumbing down, but evidence of academia reflecting changes in the real world says Paul Smith, professor of media and culture at the University of Sussex.

"In the current cultural, social and political circumstances that we live in, the media is so pre-eminent, that some way of understanding it is fairly crucial for an informed citizenship.

"We are trying to understand how [the media] operates, what kind of structures it has and the cultural impact it has."

And, he says, the image of students whiling away their days watching TV is no more true than the life of any other undergraduate.

No time to watch TV

"At Sussex there's no class time devoted to just watching programmes. They're not spending the whole tutorial watching a re-run of One Foot in the Grave."

There is however hostility from some media professionals towards courses. The industry tends to pride itself on rewarding hard graft rather than academic qualifications and, at that often means starting at the bottom, making the tea.

Tiff, Grant, baby
Hmm, so Grant wants the baby from Tiff. What are the socio-economic implications?
The healthy economy has given a boost to students of all disciplines, but even so, media studies graduates are no way near the end of the dole queue.

In fact, a jobseeker brandishing a BA in media studies can expect to do better than many of his or her contemporaries.

Paul Redmond, editor of the annual publication What Do Graduates Do? says media studies has the seventh highest employment rate.

Some 76.5% of graduates go into full or part time employment within six months of leaving the job. Computer studies graduates are the most sought after, at 83.6%.

However, Mr Redmond says only 15% of first jobs are actually in the media sector (a classification which include advertising sales, public relations and journalism) while another five percent start in media research jobs.

However, the poor reputation may have rubbed off on young people picking their degree options. Statistics from the University and Colleges Admissions Service show applications for media studies courses are down.

Last year 2,207 students were accepted for media studies degree, a fall of more than 1,000 on the 1995 figure of 3,685.

Perhaps the next trendy subject for slothful undergrads will be a degree in making tea.

Test yourself with this sample of media studies questions:

  • To what extent does pop culture's celebration of childlike qualities represent a challenge to the values of mainstream society?

  • What is Afrofuturism? What are its implications for our conceptualisation of racialised technologies? Discuss your answer with examples.

  • In what ways has contemporary sociological research on audiences encouraged a re-evaluation of media consumption patterns?

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