Professor Marcel Okhakhu is a professor in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Benin. In this exclusive interview with The Precision NG’s Hakeem Adebumiti and Seun Bamidele (300 level, Mass Comm Dept, AUO), Prof. Okhakhu x-rays the potentials inherent in the recent unbundling of Mass Communication into seven different programmes and what stakeholders must do to ensure a smooth takeoff. Excerpts…
Question: The NUC has just announced the unbundling of Mass communication, what does this development portray for the profession?
Answer: Yes, it is long expected. It is a decision that we took as lecturers of Mass Communication many years ago and we developed a blueprint which was shown to the NUC, they have looked at it and finally agreed that the unbundling is doable. Why did we suggest that, the discipline of Mass Communication has become very complex due to the fact that it has a foundation of several adjunct disciplines and the consequence is that we are not able to effectively teach all of the tranche of each of the subject component of the discipline in one omnibus degree programme called Mass Communication, so this is an attempt not just to specialize but to spread out the various areas of Communication that we are not be able to effectively deal with in that one omnibus Department called Mass Communication.
Question: Don’t you think that expanding the years of the programme to 5 years would have taken care of the need to split it into 7 years programmes?
Answer: It still will not do, five years, yes, you gain one extra year, and so what do you do with the extra year? That one extra year does not enable you to visit all the ambit of the discipline that we are going to call now. For instance, we have a degree programme in Broadcasting, Development Communication, Information and Media studies, Journalism and Media studies, Public Relations, Advertising etc. You are now going to be able to take all of these various disciplines in totality and break them up, there will be no small area that you will now ignore. Unlike in the past where because of constraints and limitations, you just take one or two courses in Broadcasting and then you move on. The person graduates from Mass Communication and he cannot fully say he is a Broadcaster because what you know in the area of Broadcasting is so ephemeral compared to what exist in that broad page known as Broadcasting. The same for Journalism, Development Communication etc. This then gives you an opportunity to structure a programme in a well thought out manner in a School of Communication so that your degree will be in that area but from the School of Communication or has it happened in some other Universities in the Faculty of Communication.
Question: What are the advantages inherent in the unbundling for students?
Answer: The advantages are many, first, you are able to now learn much more, than you would have learnt if you were in that same old one neighbored Department known as Mass Communication. Two, you will gain special knowledge and skills in the area in which you are learning. Three, you will still maintain the same broad knowledge because year 1 and 2 will still concentrate more on the broad area of Mass Communication. Then, year 3 and 4 would then begin to deal with the specific cases of the discipline, so you are inadvertently going to learn more and have more focus training in the industry.
Question: For the lecturers, what do you think would be the advantages for them?
Answer: For the lecturers, there will be advantages and disadvantages. One, it will make you focus, you can teach more pointedly in the areas of your discipline. Two, it may give you opportunity to do more meaningful research in the areas, because now that you are not dealing with so many subject areas. For instance, if you are dealing with the area of Development Communication, you will deal with so much in the area of Development Communication, so it will give the teachers to go back to do more research, above all, is that, it will open up new vistas, you will need new facilities, you will need funding to be able to do things that are peculiar for the betterment of the new development.
Question: Having talked about the advantages, what are the disadvantages?
Answer: Disadvantage, well, first it will make it almost impossible now to become master everything. Because as in the old tradition, old Mass Communication discipline, because you are generally in mass communication, you want to teach in all the areas, but now you have set a trouble, and so you may find a situation where, people are not going to have that broad knowledge of Mass Communication anymore, because they are concentrating in their narrow world, probably, I am in Public Relations so I don’t want to bother myself with Development Communication. Whereas in old scheme, you could touch a bit in Public Relations, a bit in Development Communication, Broadcasting and so on.
Question: We learnt that the programmes take off in 2020, when exactly are the Universities expected to kick start?
Answer: Well, the programme has just been approved by NUC for takeoff, but a lot will depend on the Universities to work out the modalities for takeoff, because there are implications. You ought to have an increase in facilities, you ought to have an increase in manpower, you ought to have a budget for running separate Department, you ought to have a budget for running the school or faculty of communication, you also ought to have specialized studios. All of these are things that various Departments of Mass communication would be engaging their respective University management on, so I don’t think it happening impromptu in many places, but right now Bayero University, Kano is already operating that, Lagos State University also is doing that, so we are going to struggle to able to operate this new scheme.
Question: What is your advice to University Management?
Answer: They must begin to give support to the Department of Mass Communication to develop the programme and give them the framework, to be able to implement the seven structure Department, for instance, in Benin, we would generate the requisite memo, that the Faculty and the University management will look at and senate will grant the necessary approval, so we can have a Faculty or School of Communication. Once that is agreed in principle, then the Universities know that, they have a duty to commit to that kind of School or Faculty for us to enjoy whatever the Faculty have to deliver.