Guest Blog: Universities, Publishing and The Government

Blog (2015)

Alison Baverstock, 5th May 2015

Coalitions, the NHS and our place in Europe (or not) seem to be emerging as the political issues of the moment, but another issue around which all the parties tend to have firm opinions, if not policies, is the role and development of higher education. So when the call went out for seminar ideas for the recent London International Book Fair, it struck me that it might be time to consider a more politically associated event – on the nature and role of the relatively new discipline of Publishing Studies. 

So far, the discipline has generally been discussed at potential student level: should they or should they not pursue associated study; can you get into the industry without an academic qualification; which course is best? But considered in a more political context, there are meatier things issues to debate.

What do governments want from universities?

Internationally, governments seem to have similar wish-lists for their universities, and it’s usually a blend of employable students, relevant research that can be implemented swiftly – and closer relationships between institutions of higher education and the wider economy.  

On all these points Publishing Studies scores well. It can offer: 

Highly employable students

Heidi and HESA data from the annual ‘Destination of Leavers Survey’ in 2012/13 shows that six months after leaving, 85% of Publishing students were in full time employment compared to an average of 69% of students on taught postgraduate courses. Publishing Studies first degree graduates are also more likely than their peers in other subjects to find full time employment after graduating. In 2012/13 83% were in employed six months after leaving (59% full time and 24% part time) compared to 69% of first degree graduates overall (split 55% full time, 14% part time).[1] 

Relevant research

Departments of Publishing Studies provide industry access to a wealth of relevant research. In the UK, each year around 800 Publishing students research and write a dissertation analysing the industry they have studied. At Kingston we have found that invitations to industry professionals to supervise such projects have been very successful. In the process, industry-relevant research is being developed, student employability promoted – and at least two of our supervisors have embarked on further study themselves. Win: win: win.

The industry can benefit from academic thinking skills – as well as from academics’ own profession-orientated research and practice which regularly offers insights across the wider cultural and industrial landscapes.

Close relations between academia and industry

Most Publishing courses assemble an Industry Advisory Board, and talks from industry professionals are often high points in the student experience. But it is important to realise that value in such arrangements flows both ways. Academics have first-hand contact with a range of professionals and are observing practice across the industry – through placements, live projects and dissertation research. Their academic overview is often very valuable to the industry. At the same time, universities are delivering graduates who are digital natives; many of whom have had access to the latest technologies and techniques during their education. Placements and projects have regularly offered students the opportunity to help implement change in a practical context – and they emerge as a hugely valuable asset to the industry they seek to join. 

There is currently much discussion (and quite a few conferences) on the theme of what universities can learn from industry. Each features the importance of inviting industry representatives into universities and encouraging them to help shape the curriculum – in order to generate graduates able to contribute to the national economy. There are other conferences on how universities can make money; monetarising their assets through the sale of relevant knowledge and expertise.

As these issues are debated, both the publishing industry and the discipline of Publishing Studies look very well placed to contribute. We have courses within universities taught by publishing professionals, who regularly enrich their teaching with references to their professional practice or industry-based research (whether through choice or because universities are often slow to grant full-time contracts to those from newer disciplines). We have placements and live projects provided by industry and from which the economy benefits. Our students are highly employable.

The publishing industry is changing really quickly, and it can be hard to keep up-to-date – as the recent electoral hustings organised by the Society of Authors showed. So let’s not fail to remind governments (and those in waiting) of the leadership demonstrated through our high levels of industry-academic integration – and the many examples of good practice that could be usefully noted by other economic sectors.

Participants in the event were: Dr Alison Baverstock (Associate Professor of Publishing, Kingston University and Marketing Officer for the Association for Publishing Education ), Emma House (Director of Publisher Relations for the PA), Mark Carden (publishing recruiter and consultant) and Stephanie Hall (Resourcing Manager for Harper Collins). Emma will report in a subsequent blog on the discussions that took place.

[1] Baverstock, A. and Steinitz, J. (2014)’How is the discipline of Publishing Studies accommodated within universities?’ Learned Publishing, 27(4), pp. 291-300.