Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Educating for Complexity - the best way forward for PR education?

The US-based Commission on Public Relations Education (Commpred) recently produced a report on standards for Master’s degrees in PR. Titled “Educating for Complexity”, it discusses two models of degrees – Professional Graduate and Academic Graduate - in terms of their outcomes and curricula. This post summarises the findings but detail can be found in the report:
1)    Professional Master’s program
“teaches the nuances of public relations and management techniques as well as leadership, business and communication skills … (it will provide)
·         An appreciation for the importance of globalization, entrepreneurship and technology in today’s business environment
·         An understanding of the interactions of the key functional aspects of an organization
·         An understanding of the role of communication in society and the ethical challenges of global public relations
·         Well-developed leadership skills and understanding of business
·         An understanding of, and the skills necessary to participate in, effective teamwork
·         Improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills
·         Social science research and evaluation knowledge and skills
·         Cutting edge communication management abilities

2)    Academic Master’s program
“build(s) on the same outcomes of a professional master’s program … (with) additional understanding of theory and social science methods so that (students) will be prepared to enter doctoral programs”. The additional outcomes would be:
·         Thorough knowledge of public relations theories and principles
·         Advanced critical thinking skills
·         Social science research skills to test new theories
·         Skills to work in applied public relations research
·         Skills to teach undergraduate public relations
·         Preparation to enter and succeed in public relations doctoral programs

However, the report found that employers:

·         Emphasized “characteristics of applicants” when hiring rather than knowledge or skills
·         Considered the Master’s degree was preparation for entry level jobs but expected professional experience (internships, etc) in addition to the degree
·         Tended to hire people who understand the management of public relations and not just its tactics
·         “Although they stress the need for writing skills, advanced positions on public relations involved setting strategy based on understanding of client needs, the client’s competition and the specific business settings. Because of this, they continued to express preferences for hiring people with degrees in the humanities and business and/or seeking people with “intellectual capabilities, leadership potential, that would make them ‘critical thinkers’ and ‘creative and innovative’.”
·         Called for a better brand for graduate PR education
Master’s degree core curriculum
Five curriculum areas should form the core of the two models of PR Master’s programs
·         Strategic public relations management
·         Basic business principles and processes
·         Communication/public relations theory and research methods
·         Global influences on the practice of public relations
·         Ethics
The Commpred report gives more detail on the content of each of these elements. After completing the core units, students would a make a “fork in the road” choice of either the Professional or Academic program.
For the Professional path, they would undertake
·         Courses in areas of PR specialization, e.g. healthcare promotion, sports PR, etc or units from other academic programs which align with PR and communications studies.
·         An internship or “co-operative education experience” for those without a UG degree or professional experience prior to study; or a more advanced experience for students who are already working professionals.
For the Academic path, in preparation for doctoral studies, they would undertake:
·         Additional research courses
·         A thesis
The report is soundly researched and written by experts but is it really what the PR industry wants and universities can provide?
What’s missing? My suggestion is that it is a very corporatist in its outlook and hasn’t taken on board the impact of social media and PR 2.0.

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