There doesn’t seem to have been any response from the professional bodies PRCA or CIPR to the publication of Lord Browne’s report from the Independent review of higher education & student finance in England: Securing a sustainable future for higher education in England.
But given that University degrees are considered increasingly important for those entering public relations, the implications of the proposal to raise the costs for students quite significantly should be discussed.
Despite the fact that it is over 20 years since the first degree courses in PR were introduced in the UK, the industry still seems largely ambivalent to those who dedicate their time and money to obtaining a specialist qualification.
Those who are critical of PR degrees often focus on the fact that they are not 100% concentrated on practical skills development. Somewhat ironic when another debate in PR centres on ensuring it is institutionalised as a board level function. Specialist degrees should be the basic building block of ensuring practitioners are prepared for lifelong development in their chosen career path.
As those embarking on a PR degree will face investing tens of thousands of pounds in higher education, isn’t it about time that the profession started to support its academic foundations more publicly.
There are five things that I’d like to see:
1. Financial support for Universities teaching PR – this includes better funding of research and partnerships with the best institutions which offer PR higher education. Although practitioners do build relationships with Universities, this is often only in terms of presenting case studies, guest lectures or unpaid assignments which are often little more than attempts to get fresh ideas for free.
2. Respect for PR graduates – as well as paid internships and graduate training programmes, I’d like to see consultancies and organisations offer industrial sponsorship and scholarships which are common in other sectors. An end to the bad mouthing of PR graduates as seen every Autumn in PR Week would also be welcome.
3. Commitment to continuous professional development – I’ve already called for qualifications to be included in job adverts, but studying for a post-graduate PR qualification should be recognised within organisations much as a CIPD qualification is rated as a benchmark requirement in personnel management. Sabbaticals or secondments to study at Masters or Doctorate level should be more common and given greater credit rather than the superficial activities found in industry CPD schemes.
4. A campaign to recruit more male PR undergraduates – there is a need for much greater diversity amongst those working in PR and this has to start with educating parents and other influencers in schools about the value of a career in PR. Around 90% of PR undergraduates are female in my experience – however, the feminisation of the profession at entry level is still largely counterbalanced by senior male managers “encroaching” from journalism and other disciplines – or by a reduction in respect for the discipline. A more balanced starting point is necessary if PR degrees aren’t always to be seen as only for girls.
5. A higher profile for academic PR research – there is a phenomenal body of knowledge underpinning public relations which often seems unknown in the wider profession. Ensuring that the results of studies are publicised beyond academic journals would benefit the profession – and could lead to a better linkage between theory and practice.
When I started working in PR there was very little understanding of what it involved – now it regularly makes headlines; although not always for the best reasons. If PR is to gain a better reputation and deserve a place not only in advising strategic management, but in producing future CEOs and other organisational leaders, it will be at the hands of those who will start their careers with the baggage of considerable University debts. Surely they deserve more support from the profession which they are looking to make their own.