Grimsby at the cutting edge

August 16, 1996

In response to Max Beloff's disparaging article about media studies and other vocational courses being only fit for keeping people off the streets (THES, August 9), may I add the following?

We offer a two-year intensive HND course in media production that involves journalism for print, sound and video, screenwriting, advertising, contextual theory and video production with an emphasis on corporate and documentary. Our students get 18 hours class contact, an amazing amount of access to equipment - 18 edit suites and the latest version of AVID plus all the QuarkXpress they can handle on our Power Macs. The course is expensive to run, but more importantly, we have a high retention rate and an excellent progression ratio. More than half of our graduates this year have gone on to the second year of degrees and others have already gone into jobs in the media such as marketing with BMW and sound production with Rank. This September 7, I am taking 14 HND media production students to Finland to make a documentary for Finnish TV. Panasonic are helping us out with the camera and the Lingua fund are helping with the cost. All this for kids to keep them off the streets? I think not.

Max Beloff, who inadvertently snubs his own University of Buckingham courses, has it all wrong. He and the nation are obssessed with BAs and to a certain extent your own publication perpetuates that. This Government and European governments say they prize vocational courses, yet when it comes to hiring students or stating qualifications for jobs . . . the HND qualification never gets a look in. Now it might be that a BA media student who has had eight hours class contact a week for three years of semesters turns out some good work, but chances are they will have spent 70 per cent of the time engrossed in theory, the likelihood of them becoming thoroughly experienced with the details of how things are made or work in time-pressured teams is slim.

Indeed, some universities that do have vocational emphasis, tend to have so little equipment that, frankly, it is laughable that their students will emerge with anything but a rudimentary knowledge of how things work. Yet well-equipped and professionally taught HNDs are considered "second-best". Students in schools who cannot get the right "points" are shunted to HNDs. The reality is, here we have raised our "points" level and can pick and choose from the best. Last year at clearing I was turning away students with ten points.

How do we get people like those who work in the BBC to recognise that if a student comes to them from an intensive course like this, they would be able to walk into almost any job and be useful, productive and used to solving awkward problems? Do not tell me your average BA humanities student, who has spent three years agonising over the social impact of EastEnders, can do this. They cannot, yet these are the people who get the jobs.

We need to see a higher profile for vocational HNDs, we need employers and universities to recognise that if a young person can survive a course as intensive as ours, they should be able to enter the third year of a degree, because these students do have the necessary credits.

There is a snobbish attitude to HNDs, yet it is the people who adopt this attitude who do the nation the most disservice. We have to get into students' and employers' heads the notion that education should be worthwhile; that what you learn should be relevant to what you do in later life and teach you skills that will enable you to earn a living in the increasingly electronic world. Academics argue that "intelligence" and theory will do, that is all that has been necessary for the last 300 years. Well, it is no longer enough.

Our British HNDs (the equivalent of United States and Canadian associate degrees - I surmise) provide a brilliant foundation and should be the model for these "four-year" degrees that are being discussed for the UK.

On our course alone this year, students visited Prague to produce material for their magazine production unit, then this summer, in their own time, founded and then broadcast a 24-hour local community radio station from within college. These are real-time, hard-working, time-based assignments with responsibility. Lecturers have to give a great deal of personal time to make these things work, it is not easy. Nevertheless, here in Grimsby, of all places, higher education is working and I would like other HND courses in the UK to be recognised too. It should not be necessary to have to transform an HND into a degree before it is accepted by employers. Somehow people must come to realise that we have in the shape of BTec HNDs, a national qualification that works, is successful, does not need reforming and should be supported more vocally.

Sam North Media department Grimsby College.

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