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Unbundling Mass Communication: Experts Say 'It's Best Thing Ever'

The National Universities Commission (NUC) came out last week to address the confusion arising from its announcement that the Mass Communication discipline in tertiary institutions has been 'phased out'.

The National Universities Commission (NUC) came out last week to address the confusion arising from its announcement that the Mass Communication discipline in tertiary institutions has been 'phased out'.

While the news went viral on the social media, there were misconceptions as many took it to mean that Mass Communication has been scrapped in the university curriculum.  This obvious misunderstanding however prompted clarification from Ibrahim Yakassai, NUC's Corporate Affairs Director who in a phone interview with journalists affirmed that Mass Communications was not scrapped or phased out as wrongly insinuated.

Yakassai said NUC UNBUNDLED Mass Communication discipline in universities into seven separate degree programmes, adding that this was done to meet the growing demand. The development, according to him, is expected to take effect from 2020 admissions into Nigerian universities.

The Director said Mass Communication will still be a course for universities but any university who wants to offer specialized courses can do so in Public Relations, Advertising, Cinematography, Broadcasting, Film and Multimedia Studies, Development Communications Studies, Information and Media Studies as degree courses.

“We have unbundled means we have broken it into seven-degree programmes for universities wishing to adopt it, but, those who wish to retain mass communication as it is, are also allowed to retain it.

“This is in line with trends all over the world. We will retain the Mass Communication for those universities that have not yet developed the full competencies in the areas”, he said.

This state of affair ignited reactions as National Network went to town on Monday to seek the views of media and communication experts. The consensus amongst those interviewed was that the unbundling of Mass Communication was not just a welcome development but in their words, the 'best thing ever' to happen to the communication discipline.

Godwin Bassey Okon is a professor of Development Communication and Media Advocacy at the Rivers State University (RSU).  He said the unbundling of Mass Communication is the best thing to happen in the field of communication because, according to him, information and communication rules the world.  “The world today is being run on the wings of information and communication and information and communication needs to be accorded a touch of professionalism”.  He said it is a good idea but that there is need to have qualified persons to teach the new courses.

“I think it is a good development, considering that the media industry which the graduates are being prepared for is no longer what it used to be. For me what is important is not just the policy but the availability of necessary qualified persons to teach the courses. What the unbundling will do is that it will offer the students focused training in a specialized field of their choice,” he said.

Professor Okon stated that Mass Communication as a discipline is multi-disciplinary in the sense that there are lots of disciplines embedded in the spectrum of Mass Communication.

“As a matter of fact, if we extrapolate the argument you find out that it is actually an aspect of Communication Studies. What we have been able to do is to disaggregate Mass Communication as a unit so that invariably these sub units will metamorphose as Departments.  That is what unbundling is all about. One thing to note about unbundling the field of Mass Communication is that an age long aphorism will come to bear – Jack of all trade

“This is actually in line with international best practices. I think in this particular aspect, we are lagging behind.  I can actually say with all amount of confidence and without fear of equivocation we are lagging behind because if you go to countries outside Nigeria particularly the western world, you don't even have what we are doing here.  Communication is a school on its own.  Outside Nigeria you have schools of communication and media studies.  I think we are now trying to do what has been in existence for well over 20 years.  We are now beginning to learn to do it now.  That is why I say we are lagging behind”.

The varsity don said the issue was not farfetched as according to him, Rivers State University (RSU); Lagos State University (LASU); Pan African University, Lagos; University of Jos;

On the fears being expressed in some quarters that the unbundling of Mass Communication may not work as envisioned because of the lack of manpower, Professor Okon while allaying the fears declared that there is capacity

“There is no question on capacity. We have the capacity and have been producing graduates of communication over the decades. All those people producing the graduates and the processes that produce them are all coming from this stream.  We have Professors in Advertising and Public Relations here, so why can't they train?

 “Mass Communication in RSU has been unbundled.  It's just that we need to put the papers right so we can take off.  The Governor in his magnanimity said the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies will be going to Emohua and a campus has already been assigned.  It's just to facilitate the processes and probably a takeoff grant and that's what we need. The competence can never be in doubt”.

Dr. Barigbon Gbara Nsereka is the Head of Department of Mass Communication at the Rivers State University (RSU). In his own reaction, he told National Network he had never been comfortable with anyone saying Mass Communication had been phased out, adding that the discipline had rather been upgraded to a faculty, college or school as it were.

“Remember that of these three, the smallest is Faculty while the next in size is School with the largest of them all being College. I think any institution would decide on the one it is capable of taking on”, he said.

He added that in the case of RSU, an approval had already been secured for a Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, adding that the faculty is taking off gradually.

“For now, we are still Mass Communication as a Department but it's possible that by the next academic session we would have transited to a faculty depending on the availability of resources, facilities, equipments and every other thing that will be required”, he said.

Dr. Nsereka revealed that approval for unbundling had already been secured by RSU with four departments likely to take off and not seven as provided by the NUC.

But, describing the unbundling as a 'fait accompli', Dr. Nsereka said in his opinion, now that the programme is just taking off in RSU, it should not be made so 'specialized'.

“Let it still be Faculty of Communication and Media Studies so that graduates would not be discriminated against when looking for job.  Let it be Communication and Media Studies but in parenthesis the specialized discipline would be added”.

He said if certificates of graduates bear only their specialized discipline, it would leave impression before employers that the employee would not function outside of the specialized field.

He described the future as very bright for those who venture into the field of communication in the country.  “People are graduating as specialists in smaller areas of communication.  B.Sc in Mass Communication makes one a jack of all trade and probably master of little.

“But a degree in one of these specialized areas like advertising for instance, what that meant is that you went in-depth as ordinarily you would have gone when you were taking Mass Communication as a whole. A degree in one of the segmented area gives an edge to know more theoretically and practically; and that is what is expected”.