Most popular undergraduate PR courses revealed

Media studies and journalism are the most popular courses for young people looking to learn about PR, according to annual data published by UCAS, the universities and college admissions service.


Data from 2007 to 2018 shows how many young people applied for each course and how many accepted a place at university. It also revealed about 10 per cent of all students are interested in PR-related courses.

Just over 50,000 young people applied for a course with a PR element in 2007 - but only 9,481 accepted a place. The number of applicants has fluctuated between around 45,000 and 60,000 each year, and by 2018, 13,115 accepted a place from more than 60,000 applicants.

The total number of students applying to university over this period has risen from 534,495 in 2007 to 695,565 in 2018.

UCAS classes all courses with PR as an option under the title ‘Group P mass communication and documentation’. Courses available under 'Group P' include information services, publicity studies, media studies, publishing, journalism, others in mass comms and documentation, and combinations with mass comms and documentation.

Journalism and media studies were consistently the most popular courses over this period, making up at least 60 per cent of all acceptances each year.

A search of UCAS' digital course provider database using the term 'public relations' found 189 courses across 55 providers.

However, only two universities offered a standalone bachelors degree for 'public relations': the London College of International Business Studies, and Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

PR can be found combined with a range of other topics including business, media, communications, international relations, marketing, advertising, branding and journalism.

For the most popular choices amongst students, 28 courses were available across 17 providers that combine PR and journalism. Media studies and PR produced 54 courses across 24 providers.

Richard Mayhew, HR director at Edelman UK, said the agency believes there is no fixed path for anybody entering the industry, which is why it removed barriers for anyone applying to their entry-level scheme three years ago.

"We see value and success in both those that have entered the business following a PR course, and those that have taken alternative routes. We recognise that completing a PR-related course, or even going to university in general, is not a necessity for working here," he added.


Cirkle PR does not have a dedicated work scheme for graduates, but has a number of partnerships and internship programs available, and welcomes applications for entry-level positions for graduates and non-graduates.

Rikki Weir, board director at Cirkle, said: "For us, it’s more about a candidate’s ‘attitude’ than their qualifications. Our recruitment processes ensure we recruit against our four values/associated competencies, with a particular focus on our ‘on it’ value – representing the pace, proactivity and ownership that is needed in this sector."

Weir said the bigger challenge was educating 18-year-olds and younger about PR as a profession and how rewarding it can be, and described a vocational work placement in the industry as ‘essential’.

She added: "It’s encouraging to see the Government’s announcement of the new T Level, that will give the equivalent of three A Levels with 315 hours practical work experience across a two-year course for post-GCSE students and courses are offering digital capabilities, too."

"What may be missing from PR degree courses are the hard and soft skills needed to have a successful PR career including commercial understanding, financial acumen and negotiation skills."


Stephen Waddington, Metia MD and visiting professor at Newcastle University, said the postgraduate courses at the university in media and public relations are growing, which reflected a broader trend in the industry.

The former CIPR president said: "There’s a shift away from PR degrees at graduate level to broader areas for study. Post graduate and professional development courses aligned to practice are seeing growth. It reflects a maturing of the profession but also a diversification of practice into areas such as digital, internal communications and management.

"There’s an expectation that PR graduates should be able to move directly into practice. A period of conversion between the workplace and university is the norm in almost all professions. This should be the norm for public relations," he added.

Waddington said he thought the value of professional development in public relations is generally undervalued, but attitudes are changing as awareness grows of the importance of skills and professional standards.

According the CIPR Census for 2019, 45 per cent of respondents have a professional qualification in public relations. Waddington said: "We’ve almost reached a tipping pointing where more practitioners have some form of formal qualification than don’t."

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