HE journalism chiefs stress commitment to quality education despite cuts

The importance of maintaining quality journalism education despite higher education funding cuts was the hot topic at the NCTJ’s annual undergraduate forum for heads of journalism and course leaders.

Twelve university heads of NCTJ-accredited undergraduate courses met with NCTJ management at Associated Newspapers in London on Friday, 29 October for the annual NCTJ undergraduate forum.

The focus of discussion was the coalition government’s funding cuts to higher education over the next five years. While course providers expressed their concern about the impact of potential cuts, particularly given the costs of teaching journalism skills compared to some other academic subjects, they agreed that industry accreditation was crucial for maintaining high standards and maximising employability in the face of spending reductions.  

 Acknowledging that students will likely be taking on larger debts and competition between journalism courses will increase, Tim Luckhurst, professor of journalism at the University of Kent, said: "NCTJ accreditation is evidence of excellence. It will let accredited journalism degree courses thrive in the new higher education market because it is a gold standard that will help us attract students who are determined to get value for their money."

Despite the climate of funding cuts the forum had a positive atmosphere. Course leaders agreed that thanks to the high quality of education and training, and a strong industry reputation, NCTJ graduates are more likely to get jobs in journalism, and this helps to attract multiple applications for every available place on accredited courses.  There was a debate about the costs of interviewing and testing and how this can help or hinder diversity but all agreed it raised the quality of cohorts and was something the NCTJ should continue to recommend.

The costs associated with accreditation were discussed and Joanne Butcher, NCTJ chief executive, promised to look at ways of giving even more value and ensuring cost effectiveness.  Ideas discussed on the day included streamlining examiner training, providing additional on-line resources and doing more proactive block marketing of accredited courses.  There was concern that some non-accredited university courses offer NCTJ examinations, giving the impression they are accredited. 

Chris Rushton, head of journalism and public relations at the University of Sunderland commented: "I am pleased that the NCTJ will be reviewing all activities to keep university costs to a minimum, while also maintaining the high standards that make accredited courses stand out from the rest."

Other discussions included the content and delivery of the new Diploma in Journalism as well as an update on the recently-formed cross-media accreditation board, which met for the first time in September.  Accreditation visits monitor the quality of journalism training at all centres and ensure that each course is meeting and exceeding the exacting standards.  There was no substantial support for Skillset accreditation recognition and course leaders agreed there was no added value in being associated with Skillset’s ‘Tick’ initiative, which claims to identify degree courses and institutions best suited to prepare students for jobs in creative media.

NCTJ undergraduate results tables for the 2009-10 academic year will be published at the end of 2010.