Degree or not degree? Industry vs. Academia

This week, some of the biggest names from industry and academia will be debating the question at the back of all budding young PRs minds – ‘Is it necessary to have a PR degree?’

 

The Big Debate

The PRCA Industry vs. Academics event is taking place this Wednesday at the FleishmanHillard Fishburn offices in London, where a panel of PR practitioners and university lecturers discuss just how well a degree in public relations prepares students for a career in the industry.

As a young communications professional, this inspired me to give the subject a little thought. Now, first things first, I should point out that I’m not a PR student and this might have made me a bit of sceptic.

As a linguaphile and – to be perfectly honest – someone who wasn’t entirely sure where their career was heading pre-university, I opted for an English Language degree to keep my options open. And, while not a PR-orientated course, I actually feel it provides a solid foundation for a career in the industry, enabling students get to grips with grammar and come to understand in some detail the fundamental written communication skills required of practitioners on a day-to-day basis.

Theory vs. Experience

But even this isn’t enough on its own, which is why I decided to integrate a placement year into my degree course. My internship with Airbus has already taught me far more than I ever could have in the confines of a campus environment, giving me the opportunity to test my skills in the workplace, learn from the best and network with fellow practitioners to build up a catalogue of industry contacts. Deep down, I know it’s this, and not my degree, that will stand me in good stead post-graduation. In the eyes of employers, experience always trumps education. It’s why I feel so strongly that all universities should offer the placement year as standard and across all courses at that (but that’s a rant for another time).

Before this post, I conducted a Twitter poll asking for your thoughts on the big debate. As one commenter rightly pointed out, the PR industry is very much an ‘ideas business’ and no amount of theory can be ever be a substitute for creativity. Now, to be clear, I’m not writing off PR degrees as a waste of time. On the contrary, I agree with the sentiment of another commenter who explained that, while they knew a great number of PRs who don’t have a PR degree, that doesn’t mean we should underestimate the ‘practical’ skills these courses offer. Indeed, they provide an invaluable insight into areas, such as PR strategy, media ethics and campaign planning. In fact, had I known I wanted to pursue a career in PR when I started university, I may very well have plumped for such a course myself. But I didn’t and I’d been warned of the perceptions employers had about industry-specific degrees as so-called ‘theory courses’.

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Degree or not degree?

And yet, surely, this could be said of almost all undergraduate programmes (including my own) begging the question, do I need a degree at all? On a personal note, I’d have to say… not necessarily. Make no mistake, I don’t regret my decision to go to university or my choice of degree course. I know it was the right decision for me. I also know that the vast majority of PRs nowadays do have a degree of some kind, but, with a wealth of other options out there, a degree certainly shouldn’t be seen as the be all and end all for aspiring practitioners. Both the CIPR and PRCA offer introductory courses in PR, providing young people with a viable alternative to university and people like myself, who didn’t opt for a PR degree, the chance to study up on some of the industry-specific knowledge they’ll undeniably have missed out on.

CPD

There’s also a deal of discussion in the PR industry about continuous professional development (CPD), perhaps more so than any other profession. And, in my opinion, rightly so. In an industry that’s constantly evolving, facing new challenges and opportunities at every turn, CPD is arguably the only way to keep up. If we want to ensure we remain relevant in an ever-changing profession, we need to commit to a continuous learning programme to stay up to date with the latest professional trends and use this knowledge to inform our everyday practice. But what does all this mean for the wider debate?

Well, it means the hard work never stops. If there’s one thing all aspiring PRs should know (graduate or not) it’s that there’s always more to learn – and that goes for life in general.

The PRCA Industry vs Academics debate will be chaired by Partner and Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum, Stephen Waddington, who will be joined by panellists, Faith Howe (FleishmanHillard), Chris Owen (Saatchi PR), Dr. Nicky Garsten (Greenwich University) and Robert Minton-Taylor (Leeds Becket University). The event is taking place on Wendesday 15th February 2017 at FleishmanHillard Fishburn, London and will start at 6:00pm.

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