Comments of MeCCSA on the British Academy Review of Graduate Studies

October 2000


  1. The Association

    1. MeCCSA is the subject association for the fields
      covered in its title in UK higher education. It was
      formed in 1999 following the fusion of two predecessor
      bodies, the Standing Conference on Cultural, Communication
      and Media Studies, and the Association for Media, Communication
      and Cultural Studies. The fused body represents both
      individuals and departments in Higher Education, and
      supports and fosters the development of its field.

  2. The Subject Area


    1. The composite and diverse areas covered by this body
      range across the humanities and social sciences,
      and embrace both technical and vocational training
      as well as academic fields of study. The balance
      between these, in teaching, varies from programme
      to programme, and the variety of styles and substance
      of research inevitably leads scholars and graduates
      in the field to encounters with more than one funding
      body, an issue to which we return below.


    2. Data from AGCAS suggest that fewer students in this
      area go on to further study after undergraduate degrees
      than in many other areas. This reflects two features
      of the academic field. First, students in these disciplines
      are readily able to find employment. Despite much
      press mythology to the contrary, students in cultural,
      communication and media studies have better employment
      records after graduation than graduates from most
      other humanities and social science disciplines,
      and indeed, than many science and engineering disciplines.
      Secondly, the field into which many of them move,
      including the imprecisely labelled cultural or communication
      or information industries, have been and are likely
      to continue to be fertile fields of employment for
      graduates. They provide salaries and opportunities
      which academic employment can rarely match. Thus
      the temptations of postgraduate training and academic
      employment are relatively limited. The expansion
      at undergraduate level (especially in recent years,
      though not nearly as massive or rapid as sometimes
      suggested) is thus not reflected in comparable expansion
      at postgraduate level, though this is a vibrant sector
      comprising both academic and vocational courses (and
      including the recent development of postgraduate
      training in journalism).


  3. Funding for Postgraduate Study


    1. Students wishing to undertake postgraduate training
      in our area have faced a particular difficulty in
      obtaining financial support. There is no tradition
      in the UK, unlike the USA for example, of industrial
      support for postgraduate work in communications.
      The ESRC has provided support for students on taught
      masters courses, but the most recent data show that
      relevant MA courses at only 20 institutions received
      recognition between 1996 and 1999. Studentships in
      our field, as well as courses, are recognised and
      supported by the Council’s Sociology Subject Area
      Panel. In 1999 this panel awarded 64 places on taught
      course and 49 studentships for research degrees.
      These figures include awards to all fields within
      sociology as well as the areas in which we are directly
      interested. While it has not been possible to disaggregate
      these figures it is obvious that the field receives
      little or no support within this already overcrowded
      subject area.


    2. In its current review of the postgraduate training
      guidelines the ESRC seems likely to accept the provision
      of separate guidelines for our field within, though
      distinct from, those for sociology. However it will
      continue to be regarded as a sub-area within sociology
      for this purpose. This is not only inappropriate
      disciplinarily (many students in the field are not,
      and do not aspire to be, sociologists), it also inevitable
      suppresses the likely availability of support for
      the field. While we welcome the development of guidelines
      specific to the field, this does not address the
      fundamental inadequacy of a structure in which there
      is no subject panel for a field of substantial and
      growing numbers at undergraduate level.


    3. The Arts and Humanities Research Board does not publish
      statistics on its provision of Postgraduate Programme
      Awards, though it does publish pie charts in its
      Annual Report roughly indicating the provision of
      applications and awards by Board panel. In 1999-2000
      these charts would seem to indicate that of 454 awards
      made in Competition A (taught masters’ courses) ,
      roughly 40 per cent were in Visual Arts and Media,
      while in Competition B (research doctorates) about
      one third of the 573 awards were in either visual
      arts and media or the history of visual arts and
      media (the large majority in the latter category).
      It is impossible to disaggregate these figures or
      to give them more precisely and we hope to obtain
      such unpublished data from the Board. However, the
      more salient point is the integration of our fields
      with the very large areas of art and design in such
      data. Informal indications from the Board suggest
      very few of such awards are in our subject areas.


  4. Funding for Research


    1. The ESRC programme Media Economics and Media Culture
      included 17 projects addressed to issues in our field,
      and made a significant contribution to research within
      its remit. However, of all funded projects (outside
      the Programme) supported by the ESRC, in the last
      full year reported, fewer than 3% dealt with the
      media in any way.


    2. The British Academy Review of Research (2000) shows
      that the subject affiliation of award holders surveyed
      included only 4 in cultural studies and 6 in film
      studies. While others in media studies may well have
      been trading under other labels, in Sociology, American
      Studies, or Psychology, for example, these two categories
      only account for 4.2 per cent of the award holders
      surveyed. In 1996-2000, of all small awards made
      by the British Academy, just 2.2 per cent were in
      communications, cultural, or film studies. The numbers
      are too small to make sensible deductions from the
      apparent success rates in each of these areas.


    3. The Arts and Humanities Research Board has been a
      welcome addition to potential sources for research
      funding. Its panel structure included a panel for
      Visual Arts and Media and a sub-panel for History
      of Visual Arts and Media; these two are now integrated.
      This would appear to offer a home and a vehicle for
      support in our field. However these panels have a
      responsibility for art and design as well as our
      fields, a breadth of oversight which may make provision
      for communication and media studies difficult. While
      cultural studies in particular probably surfaces
      in the work supported by many, if not all panels,
      it is uncertain at best whether this panel structure
      serves the field well. Cultural, communication and
      media studies as a set of cognate fields is dealt
      with quite separately from art and design within
      the Research Assessment Exercise. This is an issue
      on which the Association has had repeated and valuable
      discussion with the senior officers of the Board.
      Their advice has been that it is a paucity of proposals
      rather than the inadequate panel structure which
      has handicapped the field. However, while we accept,
      and indeed aim to address, the need to encourage
      and support more and better research development
      and submission of proposals, it may be that the panel
      structure itself acts as a disincentive to potential
      applicants. In 1999-2000 the Board made 109 Advanced
      Research Programme Awards, of which fewer than 15
      per cent were in either visual arts and media or
      the history of visual arts and media, despite the
      inclusion within these broad categories of art and
      design as well as, to a far smaller extent, the fields
      with which we are primarily concerned.


    4. There is plainly a fundamental problem for an interdisciplinary
      area like ours in its uncertain fit into the remits
      of the various research funding bodies. The AHRB
      Working Group on Subject Domain and Research Definitions
      Report (July 1999), notes the difficulties this poses
      in many areas such as ours. It suggests, in a rehearsal
      of a previous formula used by the Humanities Research
      Board, that:

      "In areas such as cultural and communications
      studies, for example, or in area studies or gender
      studies, the Board’s general stance should be that
      if the focus of the proposed study is on artistic
      or creative practices, history, languages, literatures,
      or on the study of texts or images, then it falls
      within the domain of the arts and humanities".

      In the past this approach has been amplified by
      the view that research on ‘impacts’ would properly
      be the domain of the ESRC. The panel, and the Board,
      have recognised the inconsistencies and difficulties
      this poses. A research project addressing the relationship
      between gendered employment practices in the media
      industry and the portrayal of women in media texts
      for example, or of the latter on women’s perceptions
      of the gendered nature of social relations, would
      clearly straddle the boundaries being created. Such
      transgressing of boundaries is probably more typical
      than exceptional, and it may be that since no single
      and simple demarcation would ever be achievable,
      a more flexible and all-embracing approach to research
      applications from both Board and Council is required.
      The worst possible outcome, that good proposals ‘fall
      between two stools’, is a risk to which many in the
      field feel themselves prey.


  5. Recommendations and Observations


    1. Cultural, communication and media studies embrace
      a variety of cognate research fields which have been
      extremely successful and which have grown substantially
      in recent years. Students graduating in these fields
      are successful in obtaining employment outside academia.
      Nonetheless there is a very serious question to be
      addressed in the need to ensure the training and
      recruitment of the next generation of researchers
      in this important area. Equally important is the
      need to ensure that teachers in these fields in the
      future have a sound grounding in and good opportunities
      to pursue research. Research and teaching in the
      UK in these areas has a very high reputation. This
      should be protected and enhanced, and in this the
      research councils, and other bodies funding research,
      have an important responsibility.


    2. At present the areas with which we are concerned
      do not have well defined locations in the administrative
      structure of the AHRB or the ESRC. There would seem
      to be prima face evidence that this may significantly
      suppress the funding and support available to them.
      This is exacerbated by imprecise intellectual boundaries
      to the fields. While these are inevitable, perhaps
      even desirable and productive, they do increase the
      risk that good graduates, postgraduate programmes,
      and research initiatives, do not get the support
      they merit or the attention they warrant. These boundaries
      have been addressed to some limited extent by an
      enquiry conducted by the AHRB. We recommend the establishment
      of a joint working group of the AHRB and the ESRC
      to assess and make recommendations about the responsibilities
      for and contributions to the development of research
      in these fields by both bodies. We would hope that
      the active involvement of this Association in such
      an exercise would be possible.


    3. In advance of such an enquiry we have recommended
      the acceptance by the ESRC of subject specific guidelines
      for postgraduate training for communications, media
      and cultural studies (as a cognate field within the
      sociology subject area panel for the time being,
      though this may not be the ideal long term solution).
      We also recommend that the panel structure of the
      AHRB be kept under review to assess the contribution
      of the Board to research and research training in
      our fields provided by the Visual Arts and Media
      Panel, given its heavy commitment to support for
      art and design. We further recommend that more thought
      be given to support by both the Board (with whom
      this idea has already been floated) and the Council
      (with whom it has yet to be discussed) for support
      for training for young researchers in the preparation
      and submission of research proposals to funding bodies.


    4. Each of the funding bodies discussed in this paper,
      and indeed other statutory bodies such as the QAA,
      or exercises, such as the RAE, take different positions
      and define the fields with which we are concerned
      in varying ways. While this is inevitable to some
      degree and not wholly inappropriate, there is clearly
      a need for further coherence than currently exists.

Summary of recommendations

We recommend:

  • the establishment of a joint working group of the AHRB
    and the ESRC to assess and make recommendations about
    the responsibilities for and contributions to the development
    of research in these fields by both bodies.

  • the acceptance by the ESRC of subject specific guidelines
    for postgraduate training for communications, media and
    cultural studies

  • the panel structure of the AHRB be kept under review
    to assess the contribution of the Board to research and
    research training in our fields provided by the Visual
    Arts and Media Panel, given its heavy commitment to support
    for art and design

  • more thought be given to support by both the AHRB and
    the ESRC for support for training for young researchers
    in the preparation and submission of research proposals
    in media, communication and cultural studies to funding
    bodies.

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