Our PR future is well-educated, business focused – and female


A new survey has demonstrated how public relations students are overwhelmingly female, independent, motivated and aware of the business realities facing them in the work environment. A total number of 145 students from 4 IPR approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses revealed their thoughts in the ‘IPR Freshers Survey’ carried out at the start of the last academic year (2003/04).

The study was undertaken to understand what compels students to spend time, effort and money in a subject considered by some in industry as essentially ‘hands-on’. With the government’s plans to introduce top-up fees, the IPR wanted to uncover the motivation behind increasing demand for bachelors, masters and postgraduate diploma PR courses.

The sample was composed of students representing the range of PR courses at three levels. They are: the BA (Hons) in PR at Bournemouth University, the BA (Hons) in PR at Leeds Metropolitan University, the Postgraduate Diploma in Public and Media Relations at Cardiff University and the MA in Public Relations at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The results of this study are an eye-opener for the industry and sceptics of PR graduates.

PR, at least in education, is increasingly female dominated. 83% of those surveyed were female students. This figure at postgraduate level is higher, with an 8% minority of male students against an overwhelming 92% majority. Students at Bachelors level also showed a preference for the consumer, fashion, sports and entertainment sectors, while the more mature postgraduate students were inclined towards corporate PR.

The common reasons why students across the levels wanted to study for a PR degree were to:

Students wanted a practical degree that would lead to wider access to PR jobs upon graduation. Almost all surveyed have decided on a career in public relations, demonstrating a focus and determination to work in PR. Several mentioned the appeal of PR’s broad-based nature as an academic discipline. They were attracted to the scope of subjects offered in the curricula, such as marketing, business, sociology and psychology. According to them, a PR education provides a range of knowledge and skills necessary for when they finally enter the job market.

Undergraduates were well informed about the industry and were keen to make a change. A PR education, they thought, provides sound understanding of the practice, thus enabling them to do a better job than others. Several mentioned that they would like to use the knowledge and skills gained positively in order to contribute to society.

Most students were aware of the IPR before enrolling on the course, and many felt that IPR approval was a deciding factor in their choice of course and university. IPR approval of their courses affirmed that the centres were well respected and recognised by industry. For those seeking preliminary information about the profession and industry, the IPR website was cited as their first port of call.

IPR Director-General Colin commented, “The Times graduate survey last year acknowledged that jobs in the media are now the most sought after by fresh graduates, over the traditional professions like law and accountancy. PR falls into the media category and this comes as no surprise to us.”

“Despite the sluggish economic climate over the past two years, firms and consultancies are still employing PR staff, in some cases even expanding their PR departments. These students have taken the first step in their futures by investing in their personal and professional development. Their commitment will raise standards within industry in the years to come and this will benefit us as a profession.”

One of the recommendations of the landmark study Unlocking the Potential of PR carried out last year with the DTI, was to introduce a ‘work placement charter’ for organisations offering placements and secondments. This will ensure that students are viewed as more than ‘cheap labour’ and reap the benefits of their work experience. This survey has consolidated the importance and value attached by students and industry to placements. The IPR is consulting and will establish a set of guidelines by June 2004.