Browne Review could see shift towards NCTJ short course

The Browne Review on university tuition fees was published this week to a mixed public reaction.

But what specifically will the recommendations mean for journalism as a degree subject and, subsequently, for the media industry in the long term? The Student takes a look at the potential consequences for young journalists as a result of the tuition fee hike.

What the Browne Review recommends?

Lord Browne

Lord Browne, in a nutshell, has recommended that the current cap on fees (which stands at £3,290) should be scrapped and a higher fee charged. In 2009 Universities UK, a higher education action group, suggested tuition fees should double to £7,000. However, Lord Browne’s review has implied that universities will be able to decide what they think their education is worth, meaning some institutions could charge more than £10,000.

Importantly, (as the BBC explains in more detail here) universities charging more than £6,000 would be charged an increasing levy on each further £1,000. Other recommendations include an increase in the wage graduates would earn before they began to pay their tuition fee back (rising to £21,000 from £15,000) and the slight increase in the number of years after which any outstanding debt would be wiped out (30 years from 25).

But what this will mean for journalism degrees?

The Brown review recommendations could have serious implications for vocational undergraduate degrees, of which journalism is one of the most popular. Vocational degrees, for anyone who is isn’t aware, are courses which prepare students for jobs that are based on manual activities and relate specifically to one trade – in the case of journalism, this includes media law, shorthand, local government structure, news writing etc.

The problem with vocational degrees is that they don’t actually offer you anything that you can’t find somewhere else. What I mean by that is that many of the basic skills taught in a three year media degree could, in theory, be learnt on the job or whilst on work experience/an internship. Granted, it’s easier said than done to get work experience/ an internship/ a job in the media at the moment but, over a sustained period of free work, I believe it would be possible to learn, on a very low level, what an undergraduate degree would teach you over three years, even if it means buying a shorthand book and media law textbook and teaching yourself in the evenings.

Not only would learning on the job equip you with the basic skills necessary but it would also be much cheaper. I mentioned in an earlier post how I thought long and hard about doing an undergraduate journalism degree before plumping for English Literature. At the end of the day, these decisions on what degree to study come down to what you believe gets you value for money – if journalism courses begin to charge £6,000+, they lose a lot of the attraction that they held when course fees were £3,000. Head of journalism and publishing at Kingston University Beth Brewster and UCLan’s online journalism lecturer Andy Dickinson have indicated to us that the Browne review may certainly make students think long and hard about investing in an education that could top £30,000.

From Wannabe Hacks’ point of view, the free work route may well be the answer if it is possible to get the basic skills that a degree may offer for the cost of a few books and travel expenses to and from the offices of your local paper.

However, obviously, not everyone can learn the basics through work experience or internships. And this is where the NCTJ fast-track courses comes into their own. Undergraduate journalism courses, until now, have been the standard route into the media industry because they give a good overview of journalism, cover a lot of topics and do so in an enviroment where it is possible to make mistakes – you’re just learning, after all. If the Browne review recommendations are put into practice though, I believe these NCTJ courses will become the preferred option of wannabe journalists after school/university.

Writing Pad

Photo courtesy of sskennel

This is for two reasons: 1) NCTJ fast-track courses (unless the National Council for the Teaching of Journalists decide to do something drastic) will still be around £3,000 and thus are far less of a risk than a three year, expensive undergraduates degree and 2) they take just 5 months to complete, meaning students will be able to get onto the job ladder quicker and have a greater chance of earning actual money than if they did work experience/ internships for free for numerous months.

The Browne review could have even more serious repercussions than this. If put in place, the recommendations to raise tuition fees exponentially could, potentially, seriously affect the number of journalists coming through the system. The starting salary of a journalist is lower (Prospects suggests it could be as low as £15,000) than other vocational industries (particularly business and IT) in which it is possible to earn more money, more quickly. Unfortunately this could put off a lot of people who feel that even learning on the job involves too much time, money and long hours to justify a career in journalism and they may well decide to pursue another career.

With less people wanting to enter the profession, less competition for jobs and fewer students willing to work for free during the holidays and after graduating, the Browne review could have an effect that reaches further into the loins of journalism than we ever imagined.

About benwhitelaw
Ben is Communities Editor at The Times

6 Responses to Browne Review could see shift towards NCTJ short course

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Browne Review could see shift towards NCTJ short course « Wannabe Hacks --

  2. Andy says:

    Interesting article.  You attribute the following to me

    “make students think long and hard about investing in an education that could top £30,000 if it is possible to get the basics for the cost of a few books and travel expenses to and from the offices of your local paper.”

    I think the first bit is fair – students would think long and hard- but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t say or alude to the last part. I did say that I thought a fees rise would make people think long and hard about a degree given the wages the could expect. That’s always the offset. If you invest in an education then you should expect a return. That’s not down to the educator alone. It’s down to the employer as well. A responsibility that our industry has a risible if not shameful record on. 

    You also make the assumption that all journalism degrees cover the same content and assume the nctj represents a distillation of that. I don’t agree  

    You’ve also fallen in to the trap of conflating journalism and print.  For all the talk of multimedia I don’t believe that either the nctj or newspapers alone offer a cross platform experience of journalism. 

    I’ve commented previously that I think the benefit of a university education is time. I also think the range of degree is better suited to providing an opportunity to experience and develop the broad pallette of skills needed in the industry. But I was clear that it may not work for all. Perhaps the experience route would work for some. But I warned that this was not free (to the shame if those who would exploit it). 

    It seems that in putting this post together you have started from the position that the nctj/short course route is the best  answer. I’m sorry but I don’t and can’t support that. Some clarification of that in the attribution would be good. 

  3. The Student says:

    Thanks for your comment Andy.

    Apologies for misquoting you. We certainly didn’t intend to and were well aware (in the tweets in which you replied to our query) that you didn’t make the point that “it’s possible to get the basics for the cost of a few books and travel expenses to and from the offices of your local paper.” This sentence was intended to be our opinion, a comment on what we thought summed up the financial considerations that a student may weigh up. We have changed to post so it better reflects your opinion. Apologies for once again attributing you incorrectly.

    I can reassure you that I haven’t come from a position that either a NCTJ/short course route is any better than a three year undergraduate degree, or that those are better than working in a publication and learning that way. I haven’t gone through any of those processes but I still note that journalism degrees offer what I imagine is a ‘good overview of journalism, cover a lot of topics and do so in an enviroment where it is possible to make mistakes’. The post was simply a thinking aloud as to the thought processes that might be considered by somone looking to study journalism in the future.

  4. Andy says:


    I think the emphasis (the red text) still doesn’t make that clear. You could still read the “from out point of view” as attributed to myself and Beth.

    But I think I’ve made my point.

  5. Cleland Thom says:

    A great article – but don’t forget the distance learning option, which is still the most cost-effective way of achieving the NCT certificate / diploma.

  6. Pingback: The unexpected impact of spending cuts « Rosie Niven

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