Media studies are popular, dynamic and have ‘profound impact’, report says

Degrees often derided as ‘low-value’ or ‘Mickey Mouse’ subjects are praised as vital to UK’s £108bn creative industries.

Media and communications studies, often derided as “soft”, “low-value” or “Mickey Mouse” subjects, are in fact popular, dynamic and have “profound impact”, according to a report.

The British Academy study says that rather than being “low value”, such courses play a vital role in the UK’s £108bn creative industries and have become increasingly relevant in a world grappling with new technologies, artificial intelligence and the dangers of disinformation.

Over the years, the media studies degree has been described variously as “little more than a state-funded, three-year equivalent of pub chat”, “puffed-up nonsense masquerading as academic discipline” and “an instant turn-off to employers”.

However, the report published on Tuesday highlights “groundbreaking” research that has emerged from these study areas, including research looking into music’s influence on maternal mental health, and the development of an evidence-based framework on children’s rights and digital technologies in collaboration with Unicef.

The report suggests that interest in media and communications at degree level has held up despite the flak the subjects have attracted. The number of undergraduates on media, screen, journalism and communication courses dipped 2% overall between 2019 and 2021, after 7% growth in the preceding six years.

Undergraduate enrolments for media studies specifically grew by 5% 2019-21, and at postgraduate level, taught student numbers across media, screen, journalism and communication increased by 72% over the same period, many of whom are international students.

Rather than being the preserve of low-tariff higher education institutions, the report found that students were increasingly drawn to research-intensive Russell Group universities and London-based institutions.

And far from being “an instant turn-off to employers”, the report said media, screen, journalism and communication studies graduates were “highly literate in media and digital skills that are transferable to a broad range of industries, not least the creative industries sector which has grown 1.5 times the rate of the wider UK economy over the past decade”.

Robin Mansell, a professor emeritus at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s media and communications department and a member of the report’s advisory group, said: “Media, screen, journalism and communication studies subjects are sometimes dismissed as ‘low-value’ or ‘Mickey Mouse’ subjects.

“Our report provides very substantial evidence to counter these claims. These subjects are highly popular among young people. They play an essential role in the creative industries which contribute £108bn annually to the economy, and education in these subjects supports a globally leading cultural sector.

“They are crucial in addressing global issues, from developing media and information literacy and combating disinformation to guiding the future adoption and use of AI tools.”

She added: “At this crucial juncture when we face challenges like course closures and shifts in international student dynamics, recognising and supporting these subjects is vital for the continued prosperity of our creativity and for the UK’s political economy.”

The British Academy is the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences and the report is part of its “state of the discipline” series, which monitors and reports on different areas of study.

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