What makes a good school of journalism

Sally Jackson

The Australian, September 21, 2006, p.17

JOURNALISM courses run by the University of the Sunshine Coast, the University of Western Sydney and the private Brisbane college Jschool have been judged the best by their students.

All the graduates of those courses who returned questionnaires in the annual Graduate Careers Council of Australia survey said they were very satisfied or satisfied.

Rounding out the top five were Perth’s Murdoch University and Sydney’s University of Technology, with 88 per cent of their graduates declaring themselves satisfied.

The University of Newcastle, University of Queensland, Charles Sturt University, the University of Wollongong and Southern Cross University had satisfaction ratings of 50 per cent, meaning half their journalism major graduates were very dissatisfied, dissatisfied or neutral about their experience.

The annual graduate course experience survey polls the attitudes of graduates towards their courses and the skills they acquire through tertiary education.

As a private college, Jschool wasn’t included in the survey, but founder Professor John Henningham distributed the same questionnaire to his half dozen graduates. He also mined the published survey results to produce the league table. The survey showed newer, smaller schools were outdoing better-known courses which provided less individual attention and field work, Professor Henningham said. “The problem with the bigger courses is they have huge numbers. Hundreds of students begin each year and … journalism is just one subject they do. I don’t think they offer up a great camaraderie or a real excitement about journalism.”

Students appreciated individual feedback and also valued practical training in skills such as shorthand over academic theorising, Henningham said.

“The approach to journalism education we have developed involves lots of reporting and writing and a real focus on journalism as a career, not simply on having book knowledge.”

Overall, a national average of 66.5 per cent of journalism-school graduates were satisfied with their course and 64.5 per cent were satisfied with their generic skills, but only 50.8 per cent were satisfied with the teaching of their course.

Dr Stephen Lamble, head of the communication school at Sunshine Coast, endorsed Jschool’s league table, saying his university had also examined the raw data with the same results. Sunshine Coast was among the top three performers in the survey, a result Dr Lamble attributed to its small class sizes, experienced teachers and hands-on training. “We have a strong practical emphasis based on good sound theory,” he said. “Every one of our lecturers is a working journalist or a former journalist. As far as I’m aware, we’re the only journalism course apart from Jschool that offers every student an internship as part of the course.”

Sunshine Coast turned out 30 to 50 journalism graduates a year and would limit its course size to that number, Dr Lamble said. “We have close to 100 per cent employment of our graduates.”

Although the University of Wollongong ranked poorly in the survey, Dr Stephen Tanner, head of its school of journalism and creative writing, said post-graduates had been very supportive of its program. However, “at an undergraduate level we recognised there was a need to increase the number of journalism subjects the students do,” he said. From next year a full bachelor of journalism degree with more than 20 subjects will be offered.

“That is in response to concerns students have raised about the number and range of subjects on offer here.”

SURVEY RESULTS

Course and percentage satisfaction rating

1. Jschool: Journalism Education & Training: 100%
1. University of the Sunshine Coast: 100%
1. University of Western Sydney: 100%
4. Murdoch University: 88%
4. University of Technology, Sydney: 88%
6. University of Canberra: 77%
7. La Trobe University: 75%
8. University of South Australia: 74%
9. Deakin University: 73%
10. Monash University: 72%
11. University of Tasmania: 70%
12. University of Southern Queensland: 68%
13. Griffith University: 67%
14. Queensland University of Technology: 63%
15. James Cook University: 61%
15. Curtin University of Technology: 61%
17. Bond University: 60%
17. RMIT University: 60%
19. Edith Cowan University: 57%
20. University of Newcastle: 52%
20. University of Queensland: 52%
22, Charles Sturt University: 50%
22. University of Wollongong: 50%
23. Southern Cross University: 45%

National Average: 66.5%

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