Media studies has been labelled a "Mickey Mouse" course and blamed for a decline in A-level students doing traditional subjects. But Philip Thickett, of the University of Central England's media department, tells Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi the criticism is unfair.

Philip Thickett is fed up of hearing the same old criticisms trotted out about media studies.

As co-ordinator and a senior lecturer at the University of Central England's department of media, he believes it's a cheap dig at his subject.

"We hear it about this time every year when the A-level results come out," he said.

"It's the same hoary old chestnut. But the truth is we create a lot of transferable skills that don't just adhere to the needs of the media.

"Someone taking on one of our students for management of a small engineering company, for example, would find they have a lot of the skills they need.

"The theory side has created people who can think and take a problem and solve it. That may be how to create a radio show or a marketing strategy for public relations.

"The problem-based learning allows our graduates to come out with transferable skills."

Media studies students by necessity have to be flexible individuals able to apply their skills in a number of ways within a dynamic working environment, he said.

"We need that because the media is now an everchanging business. In the old days you could go out and say 'I can make this kind of programme'.

"Now you have to think about making a completely different genre.

"Our buzz phrase is we are trying to create media workers.

"If they go out into other industries, you could drop the media bit and say we are creating thinking youngsters."

The rise in media study courses has coincided with the increase in media outlets.

As well as traditional platforms such as newspapers and magazines, and TV and radio, the internet, iPods and mobile phones are now regarded as part of the mass media.

"The new technology produces new platforms but you still need people to produce the content for those platforms," said Mr Thickett.

"On our journalism course, we still teach the principles of the press because so many of these principles are the basis of good journalism."

An A-level in media studies is not necessary to do the subject at degree level at UCE. In fact, some believe a good grounding in other subjects is preferable.

"We take a broad spectrum of A-level subjects including science portfolios," said Mr Thickett.

"The main thing is they have the interest."

Last year, two Birmingham schools gained specialist status in media studies - Lordswood Girls' School and Sixth Form Centre in Harborne and Holy Trinity School in Small Heath.

A 250 per cent increase nationwide in A-level entries in the subject over the past decade is testimony to its growing popularity.

Set against a decline in entries in maths, science, computing, economics, French, German and geography, the trend has caused worry among business and industry leaders.

Despite the rise, it has to be said the proportion of pupils studying media studies is still not as high as those doing traditional subjects.

In a list of the ten most popular subjects studied at A-level, it came bottom last year.

The most popular subject was English, with 86,640 entries compared with 30,964 for media studies.

Next was general studies with 58,967 entries followed by maths with 55,982, biology with 54,890, psychology (52,621), history (46,944), art & design (41,989), chemistry (40,064) and geography (32,522).

Professor Alex Hughes, pro-vice chancellor of Birmingham University, said: "Though there certainly has been a significant increase in media studies A-level students, it is not so significant that it is taking over from traditional subjects."

Prof Hughes said it would also be wrong to blame media studies courses for declining numbers of students studying subjects like chemistry, maths and languages at university.

"While there are areas that are under threat nationally, I wouldn't say the advent of media studies is the cause of that."


Raj Bilkhu, who did an AS in media studies at Solihull Sixth Form College, reflects on her experience of the course.

"I studied AS media studies five years ago but I found the course to be so tedious and boring that I decided not to continue with it to A level," says Raj. It covered a broad range, from advertising and film studies to photography, but only touched on journalism.

"Being class-room based, it was dull and lifeless and it became an effort to attend classes, especially when I had taken the subject assuming it would be the most interesting out of the four AS level modules I was studying.

"The highlight of the year was visiting the Imax Cinema in Bradford where we watched a 3D Imax film projected on to an impressively huge screen.

"This was followed by a seminar with the executive producer of Channel 4's Graham Norton Show, which was an insightful exposure to the world of media.

"The course would have been much more useful if it entailed more practical work, with clearer options for students to narrow down their choice of which form of media they wish to pursue.

"Media studies covers such a vast array of subjects that I do not feel it is always the best option. I decided to study journalism at postgraduate level instead which is much more specialised and relevant to my chosen career path."