akistan is at a crossroads of economic uncertainties.
The mass communication and media studies curricula and teaching methodologies require modifications to ensure that the graduates have the right skills for their future careers. Mass communication is an academic discipline where one can benefit from both creativity and the latest advances in information technology. However, the prevalent curriculum in many schools is not preparing graduates for the professional requirements of the local job market, what to talk of the international media scene.
Media studies have evolved rapidly over the last two decades. However, graduates from most degree programmes find it hard to secure a media job on the basis of their studies alone. The degrees are also not seen as relevant to eventual professional growth.
There is a significant gap between the knowledge acquired during media studies courses and actual industry requirements. This can be blamed only on ineffective curriculum design, planning and implementation, particularly in public sector universities.
Mass communication is an umbrella term. It encompasses all sorts of content and channels involved in effective transmission of messages towards heterogeneous masses. The digital media, including social media, are an integral part of the media academics. This discipline can offer a wide array of skills and competencies that are in demand in local as well as global markets.
So why do media studies graduates, particularly those from public universities, find it so hard to get decent jobs?
Most of the courses included in the mass communication outline developed by the Higher Education Commission are theoretical in nature. Their application in the practical field is minimal at best. Teaching only theory can never prepare people for jobs of a practical nature where relevant skills are what the employers are looking for.
Many magazines and newspapers are switching platforms and preferring online versions to the print avatars to expand their reach and cut down costs. The number of print publications still thriving and offering decent remunerations to entry-level graduates has been declining for almost two decades. What then is the point of producing graduates equipped mostly or exclusively for these publications? Why are the universities and the HEC not paying attention to the transition the industry is going through? Why should the students – even mid-career journalists - not embrace the emerging opportunities in digital media in physical and virtual marketplaces by integrating skill-based courses?
“There is no clear guideline regarding the percentage of skills versus theoretical content in the curriculum of media and journalism courses.”
In HEC’s outline for mass communication courses, print media courses like news writing, editing, reporting, feature and editorial writing stretch over four semesters. These could easily be compressed into two semesters and the rest of the credit hours allocated to courses on copywriting; scriptwriting; writing for the web; blogging and monetisation of blogs; writing effective pitches for contributing write-ups to international magazines; and SEO techniques. These are the most in-demand skills in conventional as well as contemporary media.
Similarly, communication theories, development communication and international communication are theoretical courses offered in the third and fourth years of media studies. These can be curtailed easily to one semester, and the rest of the credit hours used to teach technical software.
The specialisation sequences offered in the final year of mass communication at public universities are still confined to print media, electronic media, advertising, public relations and development support communication. Public universities are still far from introducing specialisation sequence streams pertaining to digital media.
There is no denying that animation will grow as an industry. However, no public university in Pakistan is offering a specialisation stream or postgraduate degree programme in the field.
Research by Dr Erum Hafeez and Dr Sarwat Naumani has revealed that “There is no clear guideline regarding the proportion of skill training versus theoretical content in the curriculum of media and journalism courses.”
Today the conventional media organistions require more workers for web management, social media operations, animation and artwork than news writers and reporters. However, the public sector universities are not preparing their graduates for these jobs.
It has been argued in academic circles that the utility skills can be learnt from YouTube channels or online resources. While this might be true to a certain extent the opportunity cost is an actual cost. The time required to learn the relevant new skills after completing a degree might otherwise be used to kick-start a career.
Fortunately, the private sector has embraced the global trends. Perhaps the HEC should focus on integrating skill-based income-oriented courses, too.
The writer is a freelance contributor