This bias has wings

April 3, 2014

I was really enjoying “For the greater good” (Opinion, March). It was, I thought, a well-argued solution to how the government should use the funding system to align the interests of students, universities, employers and wider society – until I read: “even media companies…would rather employ a well-rounded philosophy graduate than a media studies one any day”.

The only-too-familiar view that media studies is puffed-up nonsense masquerading as an academic discipline and is an instant turn-off to employers was back. Media studies courses in the UK cover such a broad spectrum that to represent them as offering a narrow immersion in vocational training is simply founded on ignorant misrepresentation. This is particularly disappointing coming from the director of Push, “the ruthlessly independent guide to UK universities”, without whose efforts we might never have known that the University of York has the highest duckto-student ratio of any campus in Europe.

Anna Notaro
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
University of Dundee

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Reader's comments (1)

It's a fair cop. I'm guilty of using a stereotype as a shortcut to my point. Apologies. It was not a fair representation of media studies (which, as it happens, I have often had cause to defend). What I might have said had I had more space was that, for many careers, it is the soft skills that might be gained during the course of any degree studies (be it philosophy, media studies or law) that are valued by recruiters at least as much as 'hard' vocational skills. This is because the hards skills may not be precisely relevant to the role the recruiter is seeking to fill and they will therefore need to train the graduate in those skills anyway. If they need to provide top-up training, they may feel they might as well do all the 'hard' skill training, so long as they can find graduates who are quick to lear and have the right attitude, ie. graduates with soft skills. Also, by virtue of studying a course that is regarded by potential employers as vocational, a graduate may inadvertently signal to employers slightly outside that vocation that they are not truly committed. For example, if I choose to read media studies simply because I am academically inspired by communication theory, when I come to apply for jobs, a PR company might regard me less favourably than, say, an English graduate, because they have the impression that I must have chosen media studies because I thought it would get me a job in TV or magazines. They might conclude the PR is my Plan B. As it happens, I have probably gained the same soft skills (critical analysis, research, etc) and may have had similar motivations as the English graduate they prefer. By way of another example, with so few jobs in forensic science, the massive glut of forensic science graduates would have done better to choose a different STEM subject (organic chemistry, say) that would require similar entry grades, provide similar skills and involve a curriculum that overlaps broadly with forensic science. If they to work for, say, a pharmaceutical firm, organic chemistry looks like a good qualification. Meanwhile, forensic science looks like that what they ended up doing. Given that I didn't have space for all that, I should have said, "even media companies…would be at least as happy to employ a well-rounded philosophy graduate as a media studies one”.

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