Last laugh belongs to Mickey Mouse

September 19, 2003

Critics who deride media studies degrees as the archetypal "Mickey Mouse" qualification were invited to eat their words this week as a study revealed that graduates in the field are among the most employable.

The three-year Media Employability Project, run by four universities in conjunction with media employers, has found that media studies graduates are enterprising self-starters who gain a wide range of jobs inside and outside the media. Employers value greatly their "portfolio of contemporary knowledge, broad outlook on life, flexibility, confidence and organisational skills", the study found.

The project further bolsters the subject's case against its high-profile critics after official figures last year revealed that 72.8 per cent of media studies graduates find jobs within six months of graduating, compared to 65.1 per cent of all graduates.

Critics of the field have included the Institute of Directors - which recently called for "more plumbers and fewer media studies graduates" - and Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of schools, who said media studies degrees had "sacrificed the integrity of vocational training on the alter of vacuous theoretical convolution".

Rightwing historian Roger Scruton memorably ridiculed the subject as "sub-Marxist gobbledegook" taught by "talentless individuals who can't get jobs in the media. There's nothing to learn except by way of apprenticeship on the job."

But the attacks on the field as a vocational subject dressed up as academe are way off the mark, according to Sue Thornham, head of the department of media and cultural studies at the University of Sunderland, who coordinated the project. "It is the mix of skills across the academic/vocational divide that makes our graduates highly employable," she said.

Putting media in an academic context was vital, she said. "The media and cultural industries, an increasingly important part of the national economy, are rapidly changing and growing ever more diverse. It is crucial, therefore, to have open-minded graduates who can help to push back the boundaries and take forward these industries. Our research shows clearly that vocational training alone does not produce this."

She said that media studies graduates were also well placed to take up jobs outside the industry. "It's important to remember that we all live in a culture that is informed by the media, so learning about the media is important across a wide range of jobs."

At Sunderland, where teaching was rated excellent and whose graduates include Sky News presenter Jonathan Morrell, up to 50 per cent of media studies graduates go into jobs outside the media, she said. "Their skills and experience are highly transferable and relevant."

Areas such as teaching, social and community work, arts management and the civil service were popular destinations for media graduates. The study was undertaken by four universities with large media studies departments - Sunderland, Central England, De Montfort and Sheffield Hallam - and examined the views of more than 500 students, graduates, lecturers and employers, both inside and outside the media.

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