Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies: Provision in UK Higher Education

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The British Academy
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'Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies: Provision in UK Higher Education' provides insight into the health of this field over the last decade.

Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies is a large and dynamic field in UK higher education. It is popular among UK and overseas students across undergraduate and postgraduate levels: in the last decade, the number of undergraduate students has increased and the number of postgraduate students has increased by two thirds. Its diverse teaching curriculum is supported by the rigour and influence of the field’s globally recognised research. Scholarship in the field has profound impact that ranges from the cultural and creative industries to the NHS, human rights and digitalisation. This report serves as a resource for the Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies community and as an evidence base for current higher education trends and in anticipation of future activity related to the health and sustainability of the discipline.

Key findings from this report include:

There is a growing appetite for postgraduate taught courses in Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies. Trends at undergraduate level have been more mixed in recent years.

Between 2012 and 2018, Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies undergraduate student enrolments increased by 7 per cent. This was followed by a 2 per cent drop between 2019 and 2021. This contrasts with postgraduate taught student numbers in the field, which have increased by 72 per cent between 2012 and 2021. Over the same period, postgraduate research student numbers grew by 31 per cent.

There are different trends within the subjects making up the field, with Media Studies first degree undergraduate enrolments growing by 5 per cent between 2019 and 2021, while Cinematics and Photography has decreased by 5 per cent. There has been a longer term decrease in first degree undergraduate enrolments in Journalism, with numbers falling by 21 per cent between 2012 and 2021.

Geographic and institutional trends in student recruitment differ between undergraduate and postgraduate courses, indicating unequal growth across the field.

Nearly four-fifths of UK higher education institutions (HEI) offer courses in Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies. At undergraduate level, the breadth of HEI providers was markedly broad, but at postgraduate level Russell Group institutions were the largest mission group by a considerable margin with strong growth rates over the last decade, increasing from 1,180 Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies postgraduate taught students in 2012/13 to 3,450 in 2021/22.

While Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies is taught and researched in all countries and regions of the UK, the report has highlighted some contrasting regional trends. With 45 per cent of students, London and the South East are disproportionately attractive regions at postgraduate taught level in Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies. This high proportion, above the corresponding figures for the aggregate of SHAPE disciplines, may reflect the concentration of much of the UK’s media infrastructure and the headquarters of numerous leading broadcasters, news agencies and creative industries in and around London.

With a high proportion of international students, Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies courses would be particularly at risk if international student numbers fell.

In 2021, 54 per cent of postgraduate taught students in Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies were domiciled outside of the United Kingdom – numbers of non-EU domiciled students in the field at this level have grown by 106 per cent since 2012. The number of students in the field domiciled in the EU fell dramatically in 2021 – a decrease of 32 per cent at postgraduate taught and 28 per cent at undergraduate level. This should be seen as a cautionary tale to the sector as EU domiciled student numbers are a smaller proportion, paid lower fees than non-EU domiciled students, and, to an extent, the shortfall has been made up by increased non-EU domiciled students. A downturn in non-EU domiciled students would have a more severe financial impact.

Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies equips graduates with the critical and creative skills needed for the UK economy.

Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies graduates are 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. Recent graduates from the field are employed in some of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy. The top two destinations in 2021/22 for graduates from the field were information and communication sectors (28 per cent) and professional, scientific and technical activities (12 per cent).

The social, cultural and economic impact of Media, Screen, Journalism and Communication Studies research is far reaching and relevant to global challenges.

The REF 2021 cycle results demonstrate a rigorous and high-performing field. Almost 80 per cent of UOA 33 (Music, Drama, Dance, Performing Arts, Film and Screen Studies) and UOA 34 (Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management) submissions received a ‘world-leading’ (4*) or ‘internationally excellent’ (3*) rating for their overall quality. The submissions reflect a research ecosystem that covers several different disciplines, methodologies and practices to improve understanding of our cultural, creative, communication, political and social institutions. For example, scholarship may scrutinise political bias in global news, or the ethics of AI and digital behaviours. A common thread woven throughout the diverse spectrum of research are questions which examine society, justice, representation and power in cultural institutions and how values are culturally produced.

SHAPE Observatory

As the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences, it is the British Academy’s role to support, strengthen and champion these disciplines. This report has been produced as part of the Academy’s wider Observatory function, which seeks to monitor the health and sustainability of SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts for People and the Economy) disciplines. It follows previous Academy studies on its constituent disciplines. This includes a report on the provision of Theology and Religious Studies (2019) in UK higher education and a report on Business and Management Studies (2021). The most recent report in this series is on the provision of English Studies (2023). The Academy is committed to providing its community of constituent disciplines with the evidence required to understand and reflect on their health and sustainability. Doing so not only highlights the value of the discipline to society but equips its academic community with a clearer understanding of how it might respond in order to support the development of teaching and research in a changing landscape.

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