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Kevin Moloney, tutor for Bournemouth Uni’s PR course, on why PR degrees are popular with students and great for employers

BA degrees in public relations have been an option for 18-year-olds in the UK for 21 years. Courses at Bournemouth and Leeds Met universities were among the first offerings, but they have now been joined by 35 others. And if three/four years undergraduate study is not enough, another dozen offer MAs and PhDs in PR. 

So why take a degree in a subject once considered beneath serious campus consideration?

Student demand has been the consistent answer. We were on tenterhooks at Bournemouth about whether 60 students would turn up in October 1989. They did, God bless ‘em, and they keep doing so across the UK.

Cash-strapped universities like popular subjects. Assume 40 new students on 35 BAPRs each year paying £3,000 and that is £4,200,000. And the cap on campus fees is almost certain to be lifted after the election.

BAPRs are also good recruiters for students from countries behind the UK and US curve. And if students are from outside the EU, they pay much more.

Demand is unlikely to drop off. Our society has become ‘PR-ized’ with all of us drenched by a Niagara of persuasive messages, whether we want them or not. And new media is intensifying our PR experiences by directing more personalised messages to us.

Better thinking allied to opportunity-creating research skills are a smart bet for getting ahead in these oceans of persuasion.

From the supply side, uni's have to offer engaging curricula and meet employer needs. Companies have their gripes but overwhelmingly, they keep offering jobs to BAPRites.

What PR students get on campus today has morphed into a blend of old and new. Stripped down, BAPRs are applied communication and business degrees, interwoven with skills development.

You can see constants and shifts in content. The place of persuasion remains paramount as does the relationship with marketing and advertising. You must understand how government can help or hinder.

Give students a work placement year, a great attraction in these job famine years, and they see the professionals turn these subjects into bread and butter advantages. (By the way, if you advise 18-year-olds on degrees, go for BAPRs with long placements. About a third of students get job offers.)

On the skills side, BAPRites need to write well and to understand balance sheet basics to prosper in their early PR career. And if students leave campus without being fluent, confident presenters, there is something wrong somewhere.

But there have been big shifts over two decades. Corporate social responsibility didn’t hit the lecture hall until the mid-1990s.

The growing PR operations of public and voluntary bodies have been well noted. As have globalisation and sustainability.

On the skills side, the rise of new media is the revolutionary change. To celebrate our 21st with a London party, I don’t think there was one letter or phone call needed. It was a Facebook, LinkedIn, email and tweet operation.

If you get to 21, you can’t just stand still.

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