Public relations is a global profession, and the number of PR students, teachers, and education programs worldwide continues to grow. We've known little about the curriculum in many of these programs, but a study by Drs. Elizabeth Toth and Linda Aldoory at the University of Maryland.
The first phase of the research examined the websites from 218 educational institutions in 39 countries, excluding US universities. The second phase, presented in the online report, reveals findings from interviews with educators in 20 of these countries.
The study found:
1. Most educators generally define public relations as the “strategic management of relational communications.”
2. Undergraduate education programs are practically oriented: they focus on developing technical skills and critical and strategic thinking.
3. Many education programs reflect the five-course standard that's suggested in The Report of the Commission of Public Relations Education (2006) in the US. These courses are: public relations principles, public relations writing, research methods and measurement, provision for internships or professional experience, and campaigns or case studies.
4. Cultural distinctions are inherent in many of the programs, for example, prevailing media climate, government regulations, ethics, and religious and historical traditions.
5. The development of an ideal education program is inhibited by limited resources, lack of qualified teachers, country culture, and ineffective relationships with practitioners.
The researchers also found that US and European educational standards exerted moderate influence on education programs in other parts of the world. They called for the development of an electronic “global teaching tool kit” of best practices in PR education to assist teachers worldwide.
Research projects such as this are vital because education is a fundamental component of any profession's systemic resources. PR education is a rich source of professional knowledge and skills, but it's also a crucial arena for exploring cultural distinctions and diversity and cultivating a much-needed 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.
The time is right to examine the content of global education programs and discuss possibilities for a common core curriculum. After all, PR educators face the same challenge worldwide: how to best prepare our future professionals and leaders to become ethical, responsible, capable, and successful practitioners.
Bruce Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a board member of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool Corporation. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.