ULAB's undergraduate program in journalism encourages students to participate not only in academic classes but also in co-curricular apprenticeship programs
The University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) has secured a spot in the World's Universities with Real Impact (WURI) Ranking for 2020, for innovation and creativity recently. In an interview with Dhaka Tribune’s Kohinur Khyum Tithila, Dr Jude William R Genilo, head of Media Studies and Journalism Department at ULAB, shared his thoughts about the WURI ranking and media studies curriculum at universities in Bangladesh.
Is there anything unique about World's Universities with Real Impact (WURI) Ranking, compared to other university rankings?
WURI (World's Universities with Real Impact) is an alternative to the mainstream Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Time Higher Education (THE) ranking systems. QS Symonds and THE ranking are quantitative and rank universities mainly on their reputation (perceptions from academics and employers), research (number of studies and citations) and internationalization (number of foreign faculty and staff). The systems are biased towards universities that are older, richer and research-intensive.
WURI evaluates a university's real contribution to society. It highlights creative and innovative approaches to university research and education. It believes that universities should uphold active and practical learning; producing graduates that industry and society really needs. WURI is about the "how" and not the "what" of education. It is based on hard work and continuous improvement. It strives to level the playing field as far as ranking systems are concerned.
In summary, QS and THE award traditional academic performance. They stick to the traditional university role of knowledge creation and transfer. WURI awards universities that come up with solutions to the diverse needs of society. It encourages universities to have real impacts on the world. WURI's criteria for evaluation are innovativeness, implementability and impact.
ULAB secured 46th spot under the "industrial applications" category. Could you explain what the industrial applications category is -- for our readers?
As mentioned earlier, WURI promotes innovatios in university research and teaching. It criticizes the old paradigm in education which views universities as teacher-centric ivory towers. Rather, WURI proposes that universities should be market-centric and should be partners in resolving issues.
The industrial applications category is for innovations that produce graduates or researches that create an impact on the profession or industry. For WURI, lectures in large halls may not be as effective as active, practical and project-based learning. Moreover, research should not be done for knowledge's sake but for providing solutions to problems faced by industry.
ULAB stated that ‘...instead of burdening the students with the whole thesis at one go, it is developed throughout the two years the students spend in the program.’ Can you elaborate how it works? Do they start working on the thesis from the first year of the master’s program?
I need to explain how the thesis is traditionally conducted. Then, I can explain how ULAB's approach to the thesis differs. In the traditional approach, master's students usually do their thesis in the final term, work with an adviser or supervisor and defend the paper before a panel consisting of academicians. In order to get an adviser, a student usually selects a topic that the adviser has expertise on.
The student then follows the adviser. Since the panel members belong to the same area, they more or less understand each other. The thesis is completed and the student passes. In this process, it remains unclear on whether the student or the student paper would create a real impact in the profession or industry.
In ULAB's Masters in Communication thesis, a seven-step approach is utilized. This is shown in the figure below:
The thesis does not follow the traditional way. Students need to work on their thesis for several terms. It starts with the idea inquiry (Step 1). Herein, the department utilizes a reflexive approach, i.e., the thesis should be a reflection of himself/herself and not of the faculty. The thesis should relate to the career the student belongs to or is aiming to enter. In proposal writing (Step 2) and proposal hearing (Step 3), students undergo joint mentorship.
The student receives advice from a variety of faculty. It is up to the student to determine which advise would be beneficial for his/her work. In thesis writing (Step 4), the student selects or is given a faculty adviser (specialized mentor). Together, they co-create the research, bearing in mind the industry targeted by the student as well as the beneficiaries of the research. The student will be the main author while the adviser will be the secondary author.
In the thesis presentation and defense (Step 5), both the student and adviser will face a panel, which will consist of teachers, alumni and industry people. They will weigh on the impact of the research. In the thesis revision (Step 6), the student and adviser take note of the feedback of the panel. Then, the thesis is completed as it is turned-over (Step 7). Through this process, the department is confident that it has produced a graduate who will make an impact in industry.
Many J-school students do not get hands-on experience in journalism at school? How important is this for a media studies student to get hands-on experience while they are studying?
I believe that practice makes perfect. This is especially true in the journalism profession. You need to produce students who are able to take on the challenges of the profession. For this reason, ULAB's undergraduate program in journalism encourages students to participate not only in academic classes but also in co-curricular apprenticeship programs.
We have ULAB TV, Campbuzz Radio, Cinemascope (film), Shutterbugs (photography), ULABian (newspaper), ULAB Animation Studio and PR4U (public relations). In these programs, students obtain practical and hands-on experiences in learning. Aside from this, the program requires an internship (where students are asked to work for one term in the industry).
The program also requires students to present a portfolio consisting of around 15 projects - posters, research proposals, campaign materials, photographs, video art, mask art, visual art, documentary, fictional narrative and the like. For journalism students, they need to produce news items in Bangla and English as well as TV news packages and Live News Coverage.
Do you think the course structures or curriculum of the media studies departments at universities in Bangladesh need a major overhaul?
Media Studies departments should review and revise their curriculum every four years. We need to ensure that we are producing graduates that matter to the industry. I also believe that Media Studies Departments should complement each other, i.e., they target particular sectors in industry.
For this reason, I do not believe that one department should copy the curriculum of another department. We have different philosophies, different student profiles and different targeted sectors.
I did a study about journalism schools in Bangladesh. We should encourage more practical learning in journalism schools - moving away from the theoretical. We need to lecture less and do more project-based learning. Students need to show their employers a portfolio when they enter the job market. Journalism departments should help them achieve that.
Any advice for the media studies schools and students in Bangladesh?
If journalism or media studies is your passion, please enter to a university that offers it. You will not regret following your heart. You will thrive, excel and be known because you have made yourself responsible by virtue of making your own decision.