Guess which university is currently recruiting for a part-time public relations lecturer? Newcastle University (here's the ad).
This is worth noting because for past two decades undergraduate PR degree courses have only been offered in the UK by the 'new' universities (ie former polytechnics). Public relations was seen as too commercial and unsufficiently academic for the more traditional universities.
Now every HE institution is confronted by a more competitive landscape in which money follows students – and public relations ticks several boxes, notably for graduate employability. There's now a Centre for Corporate Reputation at Oxford University; I understand Leeds University has hired our former colleague Lee Edwards from Manchester Business School to boost its public relations and communications team; and Newcastle University is now offering public relations (within a media and cultural studies context).
This move towards academic respectability is good news for public relations as a discipline; it's good news for the professional bodies such as the CIPR; it's good news for students who have greater choice. It may be bad news however for some of the 'new' universities who may not be prepared for this more bracing competitive landscape.
To draw on an analogy, there are 92 professional football clubs across the four English divisions (Premier League, Championship etc). Despite promotion and relegation, the top teams remain remarkably stable from season to season. So it is with universities (though there are currently more than 92 of them).
Just as some football clubs go into administration (though remarkably few given the poor finances of most of them), some universities may not survive in the new landscape.
You don't have to buy a ticket to a professional club to watch football. Similarly, you don't have to go to university to study public relations. There have always been qualifications and training courses aimed at practitioners (and would-be practitioners).
Yet university remains valuable for those who can benefit from the rounded experience on offer and the useful half-way house between the structure of school and the challenges of the workplace. Public relations combines the intellectual rigour of a university degree with practical applicability and very high rates of employability.
I wasn't faced with tuition fees and was encouraged to 'follow my interests'. While this remains good advice, it also makes sense to consider the future before committing to student debt. In this context, I'm confident in what we're offering and am pleased that more universities are coming to share this view.