The Globalization of PR Education?

10 years, 9 months ago

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A growing body of research is at last presenting a clearer picture of how PR is taught across the world. Bruce Berger believes it is high time to discuss a global core curriculum.



The development of public relations as a global profession has been accompanied in the past 20 years by significant growth in the number of public relations students, teachers and education programs worldwide. Only recently, however, have we begun to learn about the content of these education programs, how the practice is taught and the extent to which such education reflects a global worldview.

Among other studies, for example, a 2009 survey carried out by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association examined PR education programs in a number of mostly European countries (Cotton & Tench). Spacal’s study (2008) profiled education programs in a number of Eastern European countries. The Leeds University report to the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management in 2008 went further: it proposed the development of a global public relations curriculum.

However, the newest and perhaps most comprehensive study of PR education globally is now available online (http://www.prsafoundation.org/research.html). Titled A First Look: Analysis of Global Public Relations Education—Curriculum and Instructors, this collaborative study was launched in 2008 by the Global Alliance, coordinated by the North American Commission of Public Relations Education and funded by the Public Relations Society of America Foundation.

The multi-phase research project examines public relations education curriculum standards worldwide, perhaps with an eye to developing global standards. Drs. Elizabeth Toth and Linda Aldoory at the University of Maryland carried out the study.

Web and depth research

The first phase examined the websites from 218 educational institutions in 39 countries on five continents to learn more about public relations curricula. U.S. educational institutions were not included in the study. The second phase of research is presented in the online report; it details the findings from in-depth interviews with public relations educators in 20 of these countries. These qualitative findings suggest that:

1. Most of the educators who were interviewed generally define public relations as the "strategic management of relational communications" and locate it within a social science framework.
2. Undergraduate education programs are practically oriented: they seek to prepare future practitioners by developing requisite technical skills and critical- and strategic-thinking capabilities.
3. Many of the education programs reviewed reflect the five-course standard that’s suggested in The Report of the Commission of Public Relations Education (2006), The Professional Bond. These courses are: public relations principles, public relations writing, research methods and measurement, provision for internships or professional experience, and campaigns or case studies (or an additional course in ethics, law, management and so forth).
4. Cultural distinctions are inherent in many of the education programs. These reflect such factors as government regulations, prevailing media climate, ethics and religious and historical traditions, among others.
5. A number of barriers inhibit development of an "ideal" public relations program, including limited financial resources, lack of qualified teachers, country culture, program structure and ineffective or limited relationships with practitioners.
6. Graduate programs place greater emphasis on strategic thinking, creativity, advanced theory understanding and research and measurement.

Moderate influence

The researchers also found that U.S. and European educational standards exerted moderate influence on education programs in other parts of the world. They concluded by calling for the development of an electronic compendium of best practices in public relations education — a "global teaching tool kit" — to capture ongoing contributions from worldwide educators: case studies, campaigns, interviews with professionals and other information.

This study and similar research projects are vital because education is a fundamental component of any profession’s systemic resources. Public relations education is a rich source of professional knowledge and skills for future practitioners. It also is a crucial pre-practice field for exploring cultural distinctions and diversity and cultivating a global perspective.

Formal education can enhance the quality of practice in any locale even as it builds understanding of the complex interrelationships in the global world.

In this regard, there is a continuing need for greater interaction among students, educators and professionals. As Toth and Aldoory noted, one barrier to an improved education program was lack of access to, or ineffective working relationships with seasoned professionals. This is where practitioners can make an important difference in education.

Knowledge sharing

Some professionals already are engaged with education programs. They share experiences and insights in classes, serve as mentors, offer internships, help fund scholarships, provide case or campaign projects for students and serve on education advisory boards. They make a difference by modeling the values, appropriate behaviors and requirements of practice for students who "see" professionals as the "experts." So there’s a great need for more collaboration in the classroom.

I look forward to the next phase of the global education study and to forthcoming discussions about the possibilities of a core global curriculum. The time is certainly right. After all, we face a common challenge in public relations education around the globe: how to best prepare our future professionals and leaders to become ethical, responsible, capable and successful practitioners in the larger world.
 


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The Author

Bruce Berger

Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Public Relations and Advertising at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously he was a practitioner for 20 years and worked on communication projects in more than 30 countries.

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