With the Hollywood smiles and the corny acceptance speeches of this year's Oscars still fresh in the memory, it might stretch your credulity to learn that a British university is launching a new postgraduate course focused on the home of the film industry.

But those behind Nottingham University's MA in Hollywood studies, due to take its first students this autumn, are in no way defensive about naming a course after the area of LA with those famous big white letters adorning the hillside.

"Popular culture has a really important place in understanding what people think about the world," says Professor Roberta Pearson, director of the Institute of Film and Television Studies at the university, who dismisses any notion that a Hollywood-flavoured postgraduate programme is evidence of dumbing down. "American literature was considered dumbing down in the States until the 1920s," she says.

There is a further justification of the new course in the argument, put forward by academics at the institute, that the general perception of Hollywood, as a source of little more than high-budget, low-quality mass-appeal films is wide of the mark. "Hollywood is a loaded term inviting dismissive responses," says Dr Paul Grainge, deputy director of the institute, and chief architect of the course.

"But it's actually a little understood term, as far as how and where Hollywood operates and what its core product is, which is certainly not confined to the well-known blockbuster films," he says.

Grainge points to two relatively recent developments, which have led to the broadening of the Hollywood product, and the dispersal of its geographical location. Firstly, the films themselves, as cinema entertainment, have receded in economic importance, replaced by the burgeoning DVD and TV market, and by the toys, games and other merchandising vehicles, spawned by films such as Spider-Man and The Matrix. Secondly, the days are long gone when Hollywood's area of operation was limited to a small corner of California.

"Global Hollywood is now a key idea," says Grainge. "Many Hollywood films are now made away from the West Coast of America: in New Zealand, Vancouver or London, for example." These developments, he says, have created a widely spread area of economic and artistic activity.

The course is a reshaping and rebranding of a Masters in film studies, which started at Nottingham in the late 1990s. The change follows a period of success and growth at the institute, which now has eight full-time academic staff, four times as many as there were six years ago.

"As one of our main areas of strength at the institute is American film and TV, we thought we'd stress that in the title of the MA," says Pearson. "We are also specialists in Asian media, and leading directors and actors from that part of the world are increasingly coming to Hollywood or participating in co-productions with Hollywood."

Pearson herself will teach a module on the course called "Researching Hollywood", based on a study of Frank Sinatra, whose work in pop music, cinema and television has endured for half a century, and symbolises the complex and globally far-reaching nature of how Hollywood works.

The university has already received 30 applications for places in its first cohort, which is likely to number between 10 and 20 students. Among them is Nathan Townsend, 24, who finished a degree in communications and sociology at Leeds University in 2005.

"Most of the films that I'm interested in come from or are influenced by Hollywood," he says. "I think the people there have basically written the textbook on the language of film. I'm hoping this will be a stepping stone to further study, a PhD and then lecturing in film studies."

Nottingham's new MA fits in with a growing trend, at universities across the UK, of replacing generalist film studies Masters with more specialised courses.

Examples include the MLitt in global cinema at Stirling University, the MA in feature film at Goldsmiths, University of London, and the MA in cult film and TV at Brunel University. The last of these, now in its second year, is probably not for the squeamish, given that it covers, among other films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Pulp Fiction.