What has the Telegraph got against media courses at the University of Hull?

Once again, someone has written about higher education data?

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

So, according to the Daily Telegraph, the ultimate “mickey mouse” course has been named – and it is media studies at the University of Hull.

The unlucky graduates have the lowest earnings five years after graduation in the whole sector (£16,100 for the 2020-21 tax year) – making it likely that they will never repay their plan 5 student loans.

Where do I start?

Someone at the Telegraph has been clearly playing with the Department for Education’s own Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data. At first glance, I thought it was just a matter of reading down the “median salary” column until they spotted the lowest value. But then I plotted the data – and according to that methodology the lowest median salary five years after graduation can be found among combined and general studies graduates of Swansea University (£9,100).

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To be fair, that’s the lowest median salary – in statistical terms the middle value of the ranked list of salaries for that subject at that provider. It’s not the average salary (in the perhaps more widely understood sense of the mean), or the salary a graduate or applicant to expect (it refers to people who graduated nearly 7 years ago, and was measured during the worst year of a massive global pandemic). To be even fairer, that’s the lowest reported median salary – there are quite a few providers that have media provision where salaries are not shown (most likely because of low numbers or a low match rate).

And to be scrupulously fair the values given are not salaries, they are the amount of money received by a graduate during that tax year. So if someone is working part time (0.5 full time equivalent say), the salary will look lower by half than what is in the contract.

I’m genuinely unsure why they led the article with media at the University of Hull. It does appear to be ranked the lowest in the reported LEO data for media in this set of parameters – but surely a reflexive dislike of “meeja studies” hasn’t coloured the legendarily fair-minded and evidence-led coverage of higher education at the Telegraph?

We then get some fairly nifty sums showing that, on a salary as low as £16,100, you would never earn enough to repay your loan. I like sums like that, indeed I made my own LLE-focused repayment calculator along these lines here. It’s quite easy to come up with scenarios where the loan is never repaid, and equally easy to come up with situations where the whole thing goes into hysteresis and you end up owing the government an infinite amount of money. Fun for the whole family.

Anyway – there’s two odd assumptions in the Telegraph calculations – the first is that a graduate would have the same annual income (adjusted upwards by 2 per cent) for the rest of their working life. Balanced against an assumed interest rate of 2 per cent, there’s very few repayments going in. But it doesn’t really square with our understanding of how graduate careers work.

The second assumption presents a rather more fundamental problem to the calculation. The government does have form in retrospectively changing repayment plans for student loans, but there’s been no suggestion that someone who graduated in 2016 (five years after graduation, remember) would have to repay on Plan 5 (which only applies to students who started their course in September 2023 or later. Bit of a show stopper, that one.

Finally we get some stats from some website apparently run by the government called Discover Uni (if you are new here, that’s a running joke). Apparently none of these students were doing anything relating to their degree.

This figure relates to responses to a graduate survey taken 15 months after graduation – the Graduate Outcomes survey. In this case, we’re dealing with graduates who finished their course in 2020-21 (so not the ones on the low salary cited above, but again ones who had their final year and early career blighted by Covid-19). We’re talking about the responses of 15 students, to the nearest 5 – from any course in Hull with any relation to media studies. Fans of the meaningful use of surveys will be twitching at this point. Anyway, half of the graduates who responded felt they were “on track” for their chosen career (and yet somehow weren’t doing something connect with their degree?), and 60 per cent felt the work they were doing was “meaningful”. Not great, but not bad for that particular year.

The question for me is – is it really my job to fact check broadsheet articles about higher education? I guess so. But if you work for a newspaper and want to check something please do drop me an email at dk@wonkhe.com.

4 responses to “What has the Telegraph got against media courses at the University of Hull?

  1. Great analysis. Mine was more about the discussion; the irony of a journalist taking a pop at a journalism degree may well have been lost on the author (and the Telegraph).
    And, taking a pop at a module that examines the power of Disney! Is it lost on the author that Disney is one of the worlds most powerful and influential media companies. Surely thats is worthy of academic investigation and critical analysis (for both staff and students)!

  2. I’m guessing the Torygraph “journalist” didn’t get their degree from the University of Hull?

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