Three-D Issue 17: Chair’s report

Sue Thornham
University of Sussex

This time last year I began my report by referring to the ‘considerable uncertainty’ which marked the new academic year. Over the past year uncertainty has been replaced by the all too clear evidence of the threats we face: as academics, as academics within media, communication and cultural studies in particular, and as public intellectuals whose academic field concerns the history, characteristics and future of the mediatised culture in which we live.

As this edition of Three-D makes clear, MeCCSA has been active in response to these threats. Our submission to the Government ‘Consultation’ on the Higher Education White Paper can be found on the website, as can our response to the REF ‘draft panel criteria and working methods’ – this last, in the light of far greater challenges, now seeming an altogether less contentious document, apart from its very problematic proposals about maternity leave and allowance for ‘complex circumstances’. Via our Policy Network we are also participants in the Co-ordinating Committee for Media Reform, which has been formed in order to ensure effective academic contribution to the Leveson Inquiry and the Communications Review (see page 7).

The articles in this issue deal comprehensively with the threats posed by Government policy on Higher Education. We still do not know the full extent of these proposals – quite what to do about postgraduate taught fees, for example, seems altogether undecided. No-one, it seems, had thought about this. We do not yet know either what the effect on our field will be. Those of us attending open days or media teachers’ conventions over the past few months have witnessed a backlash, particularly in the wake of David Willett’s comment in August that ‘subjects such as … media studies … are “not core academic subjects”’. It is a wearyingly familiar comment, but the changed financial context gives it a newly threatening quality. Parents have reported teachers’ advice that their children should take ‘safer’ subjects such as English or History, and teachers have made the same comments about parents. Statistically, our students come from more varied backgrounds, and with a bigger range of qualifications than traditional humanities subjects. Our courses have also been more expensive to teach, a fact recognised in the Band C funding we were allocated following MeCCSA’s intervention with HEFCE in 2002. Adding these factors together, it is clear that we face threats on the one side from the move to recruit as many additional AAB+ students by those universities that can do this, and on the other from the forcing down of fees, and hence costs, which faces others. The contribution in this issue on ‘The new assault on media studies’ (page 4) makes depressingly clear what can happen in these circumstances.

At the same time, both the success and the importance of our field are also abundantly evident from this newsletter. New networks have been successfully launched, and reports of their events are detailed here. There is also a report from one of our most successful networks, the Postgraduate Network, by Debbie Flint of the ADM HEA subject centre (page 8) – a report which makes interesting reading when set against the article by Milly Williamson on the cuts (page 5). We must, writes Milly, turn ‘consumers back into students’, challenging assumptions and ‘deepening knowledge and understanding’. Reading Debbie’s report, it is clear that this is exactly what our postgraduate research students continue to seek to do in their teaching. Her report records a very familiar – and very important – discussion on how to manage in the classroom the challenges that our field inevitably makes to the assumptions our students may bring with them.

The Postgraduate Network, its conference, and the subject centre’s support for that conference have been crucial in ensuring the continuing vitality and development of our field. As we know, however, the subject centre will disappear in spring 2012. MeCCSA will of course continue to support the network, but I should like to record here our recognition of the support that the subject centre has made to the postgraduate network’s continuing success. We will seek to establish a similar working relationship with John Mundy, who has been appointed the HEA subject leader for our field in the restructured HEA (see also his contribution to this newsletter, on page 12).

Finally, this is the last newsletter before the 2012 conference, to be held at the University of Bedfordshire (see page 13). I look forward to continuing these debates there.

Elections to MeCCSA Executive 

The MeCCSA AGM will be held during the Annual Conference at the University of Bedfordshire, which takes place from Wednesday the 11th – Friday the 13th of January 2012. The purpose of this notice is to invite nominations for election to the Executive Committee. The ballot papers will be sent out 28 days ahead of the AGM. To meet that deadline could nominations please be sent to Sandra Harris via email (sandra@simplifymembership.co.uk) by December 9th, 2011 at the latest.

Please note:

  • There is no pro-forma. Nominations should simply state clearly who is nominated.  The constitution makes no stipulation as to seconding for nominations.
  • Self-nomination is permissible.
  • Nominations must be accompanied by a simple, brief, and factual c.v. of no more than 150 words. Please also provide full contact information.
  • Nominations must be typed, signed and sent via email to:
  • sandra@simplifymembership.co.uk
  • Please put ‘MeCCSA Ballot’ in the email subject header.
  • Nominees must be members in good standing of MeCCSA, i.e. individual members of the Association or members of Departments or Units which hold institutional membership.

Please note that formal invitation and further details will be circulated by the MeCCSA Honorary Secretary, Peter Golding, in due course.

Posted by Einar Thorsen