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Employers nonplussed by degree qualification

Media studies students are failing to secure the glittering prize of a broadcasting job. Lucy Ward reports.

When aspiring documentary maker Adam Cossman left Northumbria University clutching a BA honours certificate in media production, he found employers less than impressed.

"People who work in the industry don't give a toss whether you have done a media course," he says 18 months after graduating. "They want to know whether you have any practical skills. It helped that I had made a film, but I could have done that without the course."

Adam, 24, is one of the legions of young media studies graduates said to have been misled by universities and colleges on the relevance of their degrees and diplomas.

He says: "They really try to convince you that if you take this course you will walk into an amazing job. In practice, of course, that doesn't happen, and people really struggle."

Though Adam has worked almost continuously since leaving university, many of his fellow students have not been so lucky. The course, he believes, was held back by poor and out-dated equipment.

The most useful media studies courses, Adam believes, are those offering predominantly practical skills, with less emphasis on theory. But ultimately, work experience is the key - though it often means working for nothing, as Adam did an entire summer for the BBC.

After that, he suggests, it is up to the industry to consider how it could do more to fund training and offer chances to the most talented. "If it continues to rely on volunteers the industry will end up just with middle-class kids whose parents can afford to support them."

Professor Gerda Roper, head of the department of visual and performing arts at Northumbria University, said students were warned of industry pressures on entering the media production course .

The strongly practice-oriented nature of the 10-year-old degree course had helped past students find work in direction, sound and camera work and a range of other fields. But she added: "We are offering an education, not a technical training course, even though we feel we do face firmly towards industry. "

The department, which is regularly visited by Leaving Las Vegas director Mike Figgis, also has links with Tyne Tees Television.

However, Professor Roper acknowledged tight budgets often made buying state-of-the-art equipment impossible. "I don't think colleges would expect sponsorship from industry, but it needs to recognise the financial realities. "

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