2015 saw many media industry professionals calling for more multi-skilled graduates, particularly in the digital sphere. In the run up to the new academic year, as universities, marketing and advertising schools are gearing up for the intake of new learners, Michael Bratt spoke to representatives from several of these academic institutions. He wanted to find out how they are planning on improving the multi-skilling of graduates and whether new courses and modules will be introduced to combat this industry concern.
All of the representatives from the academic institutions stressed that multi-skilling of graduates has always been and continues to be central to any course they offer. While most of the institutions are not introducing new courses, the ones that are on offer are constantly being reviewed, reassessed, tweaked and revamped in order to offer graduates a well rounded knowledge.
Carika Verbooy, Registrar at Boston Media House, explains the basis for each course the school offers, “All the subjects … follow a work-integrated learning approach. This means that the curricula and assessments are constructed to provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge necessary in their field of work. As the world of work guides this process, subjects are focused on the variety of skills that are required in a particular field.” Two subjects that stand out at the school are the Digital Media Convergence course which is part of the Diploma in Media Practices qualification, which introduces students to the digital world to enable the students to better understand and be able to construct a digital strategy in a media environment. The other is the Internet Journalism module, part of the Journalism specialisation in the Diploma in Media Practices, which aims to equip students with all the skills and knowledge necessary to operate in a multi-media environment.
Similarly at Red&Yellow School, the courses are designed to produce rounded graduates who understand context and who can hit the ground running, and as such the focus is always on improving and interrogating existing ones in order to meet the needs of industry. Di Charton, a Marketing and Advertising Communications lecturer at the School explains, “We look at ensuring that our graduates have an in-depth understanding of the communication landscape and how people move seamlessly across channels and between online and offline worlds. Our aim is to train them to think about solving business challenges as opposed to having a channel mindset.” Regarding digital offerings at the School, Digital Design lecturer Dean Henning explains that, “The digital course material needs to be updated on a regular basis to ensure we keep pace with a rapidly changing industry.” He adds that the full range of elements found in digital offerings are explored thus ensuring students understand their role and the intricacies linked to each of the opportunities. The Diploma in Marketing and Advertising Communications course is one of Red&Yellow’s most recognised and utilised courses.
Aside from media and advertising schools, universities are also adapting to produce the multi-skilled graduates required by industry. Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University explains that, “Students work in all media and within each they practice writing, researching, editing – the full spectrum of production. Our training is practice-based; we have our students produce every single week.” The University also has quite a unique approach, it doesn’t teach the latest tools, as these are rapidly and constantly changing. Instead the focus is on the foundational knowledge and skills that are needed. The main focuses of courses in 2016 will be data journalism and entrepreneurial journalism, alongside the fundamentals of good writing, editing, ethics, and fact-checking.
Jude Mathurine, Head of the Journalism Programme at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and a Senior Lecturer in the Media Department points out a peculiar trend that the university has seen of its graduates, even though the focus for students is on preparing them for traditional publishers, they are increasingly in demand in content marketing jobs. He explains that, “We update and refresh our curriculum with input and feedback from industry, by benchmarking with other educational institutions and through our own Advisory board.” One of the problems that Mathurine points out, which is preventing the training of students in digital skills is poverty. “Often, many students are too poor to afford the tools needed for mobile multimedia reporting and are therefore reliant on discrete media technologies like digital audio recorders and cameras, rather than smartphones that their peers use overseas,” Mathurine says. He believes that the companies who are crying out for multimedia skills need to engage with higher educational programmes to provide journalism students with tablets or similar mobile tools and bandwidth to experiment and practice their craft on integrated devices.
Rhodes University, arguably the university in South Africa with the best reputation for its journalism offerings, has also always focused on multi-skilling its students. Associate Professor Harry Dugmore, who is current Head of Digital says, “All our courses multi-skill graduates. There are constant curriculum reviews. In 2010/2011 we completely revitalised the curriculum and over the last two years we have reviewed it.” In terms of digital Dugmore says there is a big debate about whether journalists should learn hard coding and HTML. He went on to explain, “We try to provide enough familiarity with the digital world. From very early on in our Bjourn course, there’s a strong focus on multi-platform journalism.”
Verbooy believes that there are not enough multi-skilled graduates in media, and thus says Boston Media House’s Diploma in Media Practices is perfect as it offers an introduction into the full spectrum of the media environment from advertising to television. One element working against the number of graduates could be Wits’ policy of only taking 24 students per year. Harber explains the reasoning for this decision, “We believe that the industry needs quality rather than quantity. We put a great deal into the selection process to ensure that we recruit the best available talent.” Mathurine and CPUT are of the view that, if trained properly, a digital journalist can not only work in traditional publishers, but also would have most of the competences needed to become a successful content marketer. Dugmore adds his view stating, “There is certainly not an oversupply of young, qualified graduates in journalism. Our students don’t seem to battle to get jobs at all, as feedback suggests they have a wide variety of skills. It is not the lack of skills in battling to find jobs, but rather the tough economic environment. Media is struggling.”
One of the main threats to the training of multi-skilled graduates is the #Feesmustfall protest that has taken over many tertiary education institutions in the country. In response to this Red&Yellow School increased the number of bursaries it offered for 2016. The further funding opportunities were also driven by the School’s vision to educate 100 000 graduates in Africa by 2020, with 10% of those receiving free education.
But it will be interesting to see how the rest of the academic year plays out, with protests having already stopped registration at several academic institutions.
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