We need more quality media courses producing media-literate graduates

Quality creative graduates can bring desirable skills to any organisation including media literacy and data analysis, argues Lisette Johnston 

May 7, 2018
Members of the media

I run a university programme that offers a degree in content, media and film production. And I spent 15 years in the news industry as an editor, reporter and producer, so it’s perhaps no surprise that I am passionate about the potential of courses related to the creative industries, and screen-based media in particular. What I am not keen on, however, is courses producing school-leavers without a basic overview of what is an evolving media landscape, or graduates lacking transferable skills that help them into the world of work. So yes, we do need more media students, but the quality of the teaching they receive and the relevance of the content they learn is paramount, because there is a shortage of bright stars in a sky full of opportunities.

A report undertaken by the Work Foundation for the British Film Institute in 2017 outlined a number of challenges associated with skills shortages across the film and screen industries. This sector alone employs 66,000 people across the UK, yet there is a lack of diversity and work-readiness among those entering these industries. Some of that, researchers claim, is down to courses failing to deliver relevant industry skills. Moreover, an outline of the student journey and possible career progression is not available, while advice and guidance is considered “unsatisfactory”. This is problematic, for students deciding whether to study media-related subjects, and for companies seeking graduates with the ability and knowledge to carry out specific roles.

This gap between what is taught and what is expected in industry is creating a huge disconnect as the sector, and the demand for skills, continues to grow. For example, the UK film sector is one of the most exported parts of the UK economy, bringing in £2 billion to the Treasury in 2015. The creative industries as a whole generate £92 billion annually for the UK, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Therefore, there is a need for skilled individuals and there is potential to blur the lines between academia and industry; yet few establishments are doing this or preparing graduates to be “work ready”. This was one reason why we established ScreenSpace, where students are immersed in industry with our corporate partners such as Twitter and Microsoft from day one. That means having up-to-date skills and being able to hit the ground running in a range of areas: from storytelling and digital editing, to data and analytics and creative entrepreneurship.

Another reason to adopt more media courses is to encourage diversity: if more people have the opportunity to study media, then there is a greater chance that they will move into the field. Currently, there are gaps throughout the creative industries in terms of gender, ethnicity and disability, and we see this both in personnel and pay. The recent controversy surrounding Claire Foy being paid significantly less than her co-star, Matt Smith, for their roles in the Netflix series The Crown highlights industry discrepancies, and women across the screen industries receive on average £3,000 less than their male counterparts. In other fields such as journalism, Carrie Gracie and the BBC Women group have brought pay inequalities to the fore along with female colleagues at ITN.

However, it is not just the world of media that benefits from the highly transferable skills that students learn when studying media. Presentation and marketing experience, the ability to read analytics, predict trends, undertake critical analysis and knowing how to tell a story and pitch a product in your chosen industry are highly desirable skills. In an increasingly data-driven world, knowing how to read data and respond are attributes that are going to become even more important. Not least with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation legislation this month.

In essence, all companies are touched by some aspect of the media, whether through Twitter, an email distribution list or a YouTube channel. And all companies, from banks to universities, are now essentially software companies in need digital and media literates to help them operate in a complex landscape. This is a space where fake news sits alongside factual reporting, when often the two cannot be differentiated, and fact-checking has become a vital tool in any media organisation’s arsenal.

So, knowledge of media and the media landscape could help to deliver more quality creatives (a world without Grand Theft Auto, Stella McCartney or vlogger/film-maker Will Darbyshire would be a sad place indeed), but it also helps to school individuals in basic digital and media literacy. This will help them to operate in the world of work, where there is increasingly a blurring of boundaries between personal and professional, and where media consumption is tracked and data is king. To achieve this, we need more good, relevant media courses that adhere to industry standards.

Lisette Johnston is head of school at ScreenSpace.

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