Media courses scrapped in shake-up at BFI

July 31, 1998

The British Film Institute is pulling out of its involvement in providing media degree courses as part of a big shake-up of its education programme.

The institute currently delivers an MA in film and television studies in collaboration with Birkbeck College. It is also part of the "London Consortium", a clutch of institutions which offer a PhD programme. Other members are the Tate Gallery, the Architectural Association and Birkbeck.

In a wide-ranging speech last week to the BFI's 450 staff, the institute's director, John Woodward, outlined future priorities for the body. He said the institute's education department "has become over recent years inward-looking and largely irrelevant to the needs of many. We have set up our own degree courses and generally alienated ourselves from most of the formal education sector. This cannot continue. We must work to complement formal education not compete with it."

Mr Woodward said the aim will be to create a coherent education policy and strategy over the coming year based on serving the needs of both the experts and academics on the one hand, and the public "who just want a little bit more than the multiplex can offer" on the other.

The BFI is coordinating a film education review committee under the auspices of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Mr Woodward said that much of the institute's education policy will emerge from this review committee's report scheduled to be completed in April next year.

In October the BFI will have a new head of education, Richard Collins, currently senior lecturer in media and communication at the London School of Economics.

Dr Collins said that while the BFI has given notice of its withdrawal from the London Consortium, it will continue to discharge its responsibilities for the 1998-99 cohort of students registered on the courses.

He added: "We are determined to establish the BFI as resource for the whole of higher education and other tiers of education. A major objective will be to make the BFI a resource for scholarship."

Dr Collins said the BFI has an "extraordinarily rich" library for research, but access to its holdings is underdeveloped. The library boasts an extensive collection of documentation on leading figures in the British film industry and a renowned holding of film journals.

Dr Collins also hopes that the BFI will play a pivotal role in developing collaboration between media departments in the United Kingdom and their counterparts in European Union.

On the issue of the dismay in higher education when the BFI decided to set up its degree courses in the early 1990s, Cary Bazalgette, principal education officer at the institute, says many media academics felt that it was a duplication of effort.

She added: "Our MA is very good and we have been able to offer high quality student placements at the BFI and in industry, but it is very highly focused on a small number of students on one course. I am interested in discussing with colleagues ways of offering placements more widely to other institutions."

Although the BFI is pulling out of degree course provision, Ms Bazalgette says the institute is hoping to expand its involvement on lifelong learning programmes aimed at teachers. The institute already offers a certificate in media education, a course prepared and delivered by the BFI and assessed by the Open University.

The body is also involved in developing modules for a Middlesex University lifelong learning course aimed at practising teachers specialising in media. The institute may consider running short courses to make better use of its library and archives. Further opportunities for expanding the institute's activities in the area could emerge through the government's initial teacher training national curriculum for secondary English which features requirements for media teaching skills.

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