Media-studies degrees are often seen as a bit of joke. But the subject is being taken seriously at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London, which is launching three MAs in media and communications.

The geographical focus of media courses is too narrow, says the school. Most look at work in English, and production, distribution and reception in the US, Britain and Australia, says Dr Mark Hobart, who is convening one of the new masters - critical media and cultural studies. "They ignore the contemporary mass media in Asia, Africa and Latin America, despite the emergence of many of the world's largest film, TV, music and print industries."

The other two new courses are about global media and postnational communication - that is, globalisation with reference to all forms of media; and cinemas of Asia and Africa. The global-media course will cover the distribution of media as well as migrant people's use of various media forms, such as minority television channels, says the course leader, Professor Annabelle Sreberny.

The course will also look at global civil society and the use of ICTs to build movements of solidarity, says Sreberny. An example of this would be e-mail petitions against reported miscarriages of justices, such as the sentencing to death by stoning of the unmarried Nigerian mother Amina Lawal.

The thinking behind the cinema course is that film studies, too, tend to focus on Western culture. Students may specialise in the cinema of Japan, China, South-east Asia, India, Iran, the Middle East or Africa. The new courses have a flexible structure to allow, for example, a global-media student to take a cinema course. Electives are also available from elsewhere in Soas in relevant fields such as languages or economics, and cinema students may enhance their cross-cultural perspectives by taking a module at Birkbeck College on British, European or world cinema.

* It is competition time for doctoral supervisors who think they have a future science star on their hands. Nominations have opened for the annual Laboratory News awards, which include the category of most promising PhD student. The 2003 winner was Roma Oakes, a mature student at the school of chemistry at Queen's University, Belfast. She impressed the judges with her long list of publications, posters and talks, and the quality of her research, which is about the laser analysis of materials, including Ecstasy tablets. An application form for the award is available at Students may be nominated by their supervisor or enter themselves.

* City University has poached a top London lawyer to direct its highly rated legal-practice course. Melissa Hardee will join the Inns of Court School of Law at the university from City law firm CMS Cameron McKenna, where she was made a partner in 1996. Ms Hardee specialises in professional legal education, and is an expert in money-laundering regulations and insider dealing.