Friday, October 30, 2009...4:46 pm

Are there too many journalism degrees?

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Paul Bradshaw on the Online Journalism Blog responds to a journalist’s query about whether there’s a glut of journalism courses by saying, essentially, that it’s the wrong question.

He argues that there are only too many journalism degrees or courses if you think a journalism degree is about training people to be journalists. Which, as we all know, is on a hiding to nothing since all the jobs started disappearing.

Instead, Bradshaw thinks a journalism degree is about education, not training. It’s all about research, conceptual knowledge and critical analysis, as well as learning communication skills.

The trouble is, most people in the real world don’t think like that. Undergraduates often see their degree course as “qualifying” them in journalism. It’s perceived as a practical, vocational course. Even if, as a BA, it really isn’t.

More to the point, it makes hammering home the more generic communication-type education much more difficult, as students can’t see the connection between research, conceptual knowledge and critical analysis and working on, say, Heat.

Bradshaw goes on to say that it doesn’t matter, because many other degree courses don’t lead on to employment.

I’m sure that most people studying drama hope to become actors; that most people studying art hope to work in the creative industries; even that many people studying English Literature hope to become writers.

Drama, maybe. But the study of art can be part of a rich, personal, cultural life, just like the study of English Literature (disclosure: I am an English grad). Journalism just doesn’t have that resonance. It is a trade, after all, not an “opportunity for personal development”.

I’m all in favour of the non-vocational degree. But if you’re going to be teaching communication skills, call it communication, or cultural analysis or something that is not job-specific.

Why don’t we do that? Because parents – the ones who often have a say in whether their children’s degree course is a waste of time – think it sounds too woolly. Instead they want – you guessed it – a course with the prospect of some vocational-type qualification at the end of it.

And guess what? The government has an employability imperative in higher education. Which means we can’t just treat degrees as the pathway to personal growth anymore.

No, we shouldn’t always expect a degree to correspond to a vocational employment choice. But journalism sits awkwardly in the higher education pantheon. And there are a hell of a lot of those courses…

1 Comment

  • Hi, I just posted on Paul’s site, but I just get lost with this debate about which courses are considered to be ‘academic’ and which are ‘practical/vocational’. If someone can write a criteria, I would love to read it.

    Is medicine academic? Or is that practical?
    What about fine art?
    What about engineering?

    Or do we decide the worth of these courses purely on whether students end up with jobs in their chosen areas? And of course we can debate whether journalism is a trade or a profession.

    These are very muddy waters. OK, so journalism is a relatively new subject. But the huge amount of academic material that’s coming out from the USA and Australia (UK to a lesser extent) proves that this is a subject worthy of serious study.

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