Rethinking public relations education

8 Dec

20yearson This isn't a manifesto (yet).

It's just a useful place to explore some thoughts and exchange views with others.


PR degree courses are 20 years old in the UK, and CIPR professional qualifications have been taught for ten.

This has been a period of growth and expansion, with seemingly insatiable demand from employers for our graduates.

This is good.

But does past success prepare us for a more challenging future?


Let's summarise –

  • The new funding and fees regime challenges the financial model of some HE institutions. Will they all be able to move from quantity measures to quality measures?
  • Public relations education may have successfully moved out of journalism school into the business school, but it's a minnow there alongside large marketing and business studies courses. When the cuts come, guess which will be first to go? Do we have the right name and content fit for the future?
  • In an uncertain world, we should be thinking of lifelong learning, not assuming education ends at 21. Are we as good with professionals as with 'traditional' students? Do we offer something at each career stage, and are the delivery and assessment tools fit for purpose?


  • In response to higher fees, let's offer some genuinely full-time degree courses. These could be delivered in two years (in four ten-week terms a year, say) though many school leavers will lack the maturity to benefit from this greater intensity. So the typical student will be older and may have had some sort of foundation degree or some work experience first.
  • In response to higher fees, let's take the opposite tack and deliver a much slower track (four years?) to those in full-time work, sponsored by their employers to study part-time. Delivery will have to shift from face-to-face to online (or 'blended' learning). The learning will move out of the university and into the workplace. The university becomes a partner in rather than an owner of the course.
  • In response to the changing labour market, let's offer a package that begins with undergraduate and moves through postgraduate, professional and on to executive education. If this journey took twenty years, then we would be halfway to lifelong learning.
  • Education, like youth, is often wasted on the young (blame George Bernard Shaw, not me). Let's use our skills and our facilities to welcome back people of retirement age. They are very receptive to a social learning environment. Though public relations may not be a compelling course, consider all the useful components: using the web, writing a blog, photo editing etc.

3 Responses to “Rethinking public relations education”

  1. school scholarships 09/12/2010 at 1:05 pm #

    Is the job market only softening for law school grads looking for specific, high-paying jobs at the top law firms, or if it means that the United States has too many lawyers in general? However, a report earlier this year by the National Association of Law Placement indicated that even though the majority of law school graduates can still find jobs, a far higher percentage of those grads are now taking jobs that are temporary.

  2. 15/12/2010 at 5:28 pm #

    A full-time two year PR course is something I know many students want. There is no reason for the course to be three (or four if a placement year is taken) years long, and similarly no reason why the first year ‘shouldn’t count’ towards the final degree.
    I would much prefer a course that had more hours per week and more work in a shorter space of time, that would save me time and money in the long run. I’m sure many people feel the same way. Let’s hope universities are seriously considering this!

  3. Heather Yaxley 16/12/2010 at 2:58 pm #

    Richard – you won’t be surprised to hear that I agree with most of your draft manifesto. I like the idea of the slow track option for those entering the profession (sounds like a proper apprenticeship to me), and as I asked recently:
    I think there is also merit for a fast track option – if we are honest most of the undergrads aren’t working flat out either in studying or reflecting (or earning to fund their studies).
    But, Universities could not deliver the type of education they are doing at present if we were to go to a more intense model along either track. The mass lecture and 20+ tutorial group is not personal enough to really challenge and engage students of any age (in my personal view).
    I definitely believe in the power of self-learning and this is a key skill we need anyone in PR to learn. But the prod for that shouldn’t be imminent deadlines, but challenging discussion and debate with peers, practitioners and educators.
    Online, lectures, larger-seminars, group work and so on are all valid learning techniques – but generally selected more for their cost-effectiveness than their ability to stimulate cognitive development.
    Let’s ensure that any move we see doesn’t travel further down that path at the expense of the personal development that comes from engaging with experienced and knowledgeable educators and professionals.
    And, we have to be sure that any contact with the practice supplements academic learning, rather than simply expecting academia to provide vocational training.

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