PR education in Australia – what do you think about it?

Posted on: April 21st, 2011

Well?  What do you think about it?

I’m asking because I’ve just read a short essay that Professor Jim Macnamara wrote for a great report called Public Relations 2011, Issues, Insights, Ideas*.  Titled PR Education – Getting the Theory-Practice Balance Right, the premise of his article is that PR students need more theory.   By theory Jim means knowledge and critical thinking so universities don’t over-emphasise practical skills or place too little emphasis on producing graduates who can think outside the square, challenge current practices, envisage the future and participate in wider debates of society.

I agree with Jim, in part.

The great thing about uni is that you learn how you to use your own brain and to have an opinion. However after uni, I think that people will question, challenge and participate in wider debates, not because uni taught them to, but because it’s in their nature to continue to do so. Most people are happy to do a good job and progress in their chosen profession, only some are interested in challenging the status quo. I believe this is a trait inherent to the individual.

I agree there should be a theory-practice balance. My question is, have we got the type of theory and the type of practice wrong? 

The more I researched and thought about this post, the deeper and more complex the issue got, so instead of trying to solve the problem of PR education (impossible in one post and Jim is probably more qualified to do this anyway) I’m going to mention the two things that bother me when I reflect on my PR education:

1/ In my three years at UTS I did one writing subject (the core subject offered), so I was embarrassingly underprepared for PR style writing at work when the time came.  For a profession that involves a lot of writing, my opinion is that writing should be a mandatory subject each year, so skills can be developed and honed over a longer period of time.

2/ On commencing work I quickly realised that I needed to know and understand the sales, marketing and sometimes complex distribution strategies of clients so I could understand my job – and I didn’t. Now if best practice PR is about linking communication objectives to business objectives and PR programs rarely operate in isolation and are usually (not always) governed by a marketing department or in smaller companies the business owner, why aren’t we arming students with a solid understanding of business and marketing?

So I don’t think it’s a case of more or less of either theory or practice, but we certainly need to address the content and topics of both. For the practical that might mean: more writing and more social media skills. For theory: more business, more marketing and more current technological and sociological trends as opposed to traditional cultural/political/social theory.

What do you think is missing or needed in PR education in Australia?

Posted by Renee Creer

*The essay is part of a report collated and edited by PR guy and fellow blogger, Craig Pearce. It includes some of the latest thinking on the PR industry by key professionals.  The report covers a range of topics including, education, communications models, social media, crisis communications, CRS – all in 15 individual short essays.

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2 Responses

  1. Jim Macnamara says:

    Thanks for covering this debate. And fair enough comments. It is important that we teach the right theory/knowledge to students. And that can always be improved. One of the challenges for unis is that many graduates in PR go to work in government, NGOs, local councils, etc and so sales/marketing skills may not be relevant – they should do political science or social science. Thus, we tend to slot business, marketing, languages, politics, and other such complementary subjects in as electives so students can choose to suit their planned career path. Perhaps we should counsel them and urge them more to do important complementary subjects in addition to their core communication and PR subjects. And I agree that writing is fundamental to everything.

  2. Thanks Jim. PR is such a diverse field – perhaps uni curriculum should contain two streams – one based on social / political science and one based on business / marketing.

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