PUBLIC RELATIONS INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIA GUIDELINES FOR THE ACCREDITATION OF DEGREES IN PUBLIC RELATIONS AT AUSTRALIAN TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS

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1 PUBLIC RELATIONS INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIA GUIDELINES FOR THE ACCREDITATION OF DEGREES IN PUBLIC RELATIONS AT AUSTRALIAN TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS INTRODUCTION In 1991, the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) introduced a formal accreditation process which recognised degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Degrees in public relations are reviewed against Accreditation Guidelines as determinted by the PRIA. These guidelines are intended as a minimum standard for public relations degrees. The current guidelines were updated in September WHY IS PRIA ACCREDITATION IMPORTANT? A prerequisite of a profession is that a body of knowledge exists about its practice. Public Relations has assembled that body of knowledge. The means to pass it on to future generations of practitioners is through a properly constituted, controlled and industry-supported education system. Whilst accreditation is a private, voluntary process it is sought by educational institutions as a measure of recognition by the industry's peak professional body, the PRIA. The Institute favours those institutions with accredited degrees when providing resources such as guest lectures, teaching materials, scholarships and prizes, work experience opportunities and so on. 2.1 Accreditation as a Benchmark Accreditation is a benchmark by which public relations/communication courses in tertiary education institutions are shown to have a level of performance, integrity and quality that entitles them to the confidence of the educational community and to the public relations industry that they prepare graduates effectively for the profession. Degrees, not institutions, are accredited. Only those degrees which have as their objective the preparation of students for careers in public relations/communication will be considered for accreditation. That is, degree in which public relations/communication units are included but which have other vocational aims, will not be considered for accreditation. For example, students in marketing degree courses often take units of public relations as minor studies, however, these do not meet the requirements for accreditation. 2.2 Sets Minimum Standards Accreditation implies industry has regard for the degree; that it satisfies some minimum criteria for the preparation of entrants to the public relations profession. Because of this, graduates from accredited degrees have an accelerated path to professional membership of the PRIA. Accreditated degrees are sought by students because accreditation signifies that their qualification is accepted by potential employers. A guiding philosophy is that education for public relations practice must achieve two things: first, the development of intellectual faculties and strategic, analytical and problem-solving, or advisory, resources to be put to use as the graduate moves through his/her career, and: second, the necessary technical skills to enable graduate to adequately perform their initial jobs. 3. GUIDELINES FOR ACCREDITATION

2 The PRIA has established the minimum guidelines that it believes are necessary to prepare students for the profession. These guidelines are outlined in the application form. Applicants should read the following sections before completing the application form. 3.1 Basic Principles The fundamental purpose of an undergraduate public relations education is to provide the student with a well-rounded program of study, including an area of specialisation that represents a public relations or communication major. The public relations degree should be aimed at developing the intellectual and problem-solving capacities of students as well as giving them a sound understanding of the theory and practice of communication and public relations. Students must learn not only how to communicate, but also what should be communicated and why it should be communicated. They should be capable of managing communication - from strategy formation to implementation. In addition, the degree will provide skills in such areas as writing and editing, and the techniques of the delivery of messages. 3.2 Guidelines for the Undergraduate Degree Within the undergraduate degree, the PRIA would expect representation of the following areas: A significant public relations core As a general principle, it is recommended that a minimum of 25 per cent of a total degree at undergraduate level should be in professional communication/public relations courses/subjects covering the following: (a) Theoretical engagement All courses/ subjects should provide a balance of theory and practice. Both educators and practitioners should be constantly re-examining and re-justifying their theories and practices about not only the nature and process of public relations, but also about the role of public relations and of its management. As a minimum, the PRIA would require evidence of the following: Communication theory - as preparation for studies in the specific theory and practice of public relations, it is considered necessary for students to have a strong grounding in communication theory: the factors affecting the process or structure of communication; development of theories of the communication process; the impact of the communication process or structure - including sociological and psychological perspectives. Public relations theory, including its relationship to communication theories Theories of organisational communication, including decision-making and management theory, theory of inter-organisational relationships, and theory of conflict resolution Historical development of public communication/public relations and the nature of contemporary public relations Discussion of the social, organisational, administrative, cultural and ethical implications of public relations practice (b) Professional practice and responsibility The degree should allow students to build their knowledge and skills in the practice of public relations. This includes the building of generic skills as well as those required for specialist areas of practice as outlined below: Writing and editing for a range of media and organisational communication. Public relations and issues management, crisis management, conflict management. Crosscultural communication, internationalision of public relations New and traditional media management, message preparation and delivery - including the use of new communication technology (Internet, integrated media etc.); publicity and media relations, print production, electronic media, Skills developed should include writing, editing,

3 computer skills (including layout and production), dissemination, multi-media networks, print and audio-visual production, Interdisciplinary integrated communication management relationships between public relations management and other types of management activities, including marketing, international relations, investor and corporate relations, human resources, industrial relations, government relations, community relations, sponsorship and fund-raising. Functional elements including goal-setting, attitude research, strategic planning, program planning and design, creativity, budgeting, program implementation and administration, client management, and program evaluation. (c) Experiential/work integrated learning and industry engagement The PRIA encourages the use of experiential learning strategies and recommends engagement with industry professionals throughout the public relations degree. This could include opportunities for guest lectures from industry professionals, real world assessment tasks sourced from industry, case studies, work experience and internships to name a few. Applicants for accreditation are required to outline how engagement is represented in their degrees. The PRIA recommends a practicum/internship/work experience component within the degree. Such programs offer benefits to both the internee and the employer. Applicants should set out examples of how this is undertaken within the degree and screening processes to ensure the suitability of the placements. Early opportunities for work experience in the first and second year of a degree will be considered favourably by the assessment panel. The PRIA also encourages a system of mentoring with senior practitioners and applicants should report on such programs within their degree Support Studies About 75 per cent of the degree should be in areas which support the professional core. The Institute places no boundaries on the range of support courses, only that the teaching institution provide evidence of the suitability of the support studies for the career objectives of students. Business subjects are a recommended area of concentrated study - especially for those wanting to make careers as communicators in the business environment. Arts and social sciences remain a strong basis for helping practitioners to understand an increasingly complex world and their role in it as communicators, and for developing critical faculties Assessment Strategies The PRIA would expect to see the close matching of assessment strategies with the learning objectives of the degree. Given the diversity of practice within public relations, a variety of assessment strategies throughout the degree is recommended. Applicants need to demonstrate how the assessment strategies in individual courses/subjects and the degree overall meet the learning objectives Length of Course It is considered unlikely that such an undergraduate degree could be completed in less than three years' full-time study, or its part-time equivalent. The configuration of a degree is for decision by the teaching institution. However, it is essential that it conform to academically acceptable levels of depth and rigour of study. 3.3 Guidelines for Postgraduate Degrees Postgraduate degrees are generally of one or two years full-time (longer for doctorate programs), or equivalent part-time study. Applicants, generally, have undergraduate degrees, in communication or other disciplines, or are admitted on the basis of industry experience.

4 They fall into several categories: Postgraduate degrees in public relations that require students to have completed an undergraduate degree, not necessarily in a communication-related area Postgraduate courses in public relations that require students to have completed a communicationrelated undergraduate degree Masters programs by coursework only; by research/thesis only; or by a combination of the two Doctoral programs involving a major program of research. Postgraduate degrees are, generally, expected to be focussed on core public relations/communication subjects. While content should be clearly shown in coursework postgraduate programs, submissions for accreditation of research postgraduate programs should explain the relevance of the research to professional accreditation. The PRIA cannot accredit postgraduate programs which cannot clearly articulate this relevance. It is problematic to identify accreditation criteria, except in general terms, for all of these different degree patterns. General guidelines are provided for two categories: for degrees requiring completion of coursework and for degrees requiring research Category 1 - Coursework For degrees requiring completion of coursework, students should have a strong grounding in communication theory; the factors affecting the process or structure of communication; the impact of the communication process or structure, including sociological and psychological perspectives. In addition, professional subjects/courses should cover: the nature of contemporary public relations activity the social, organisational, relational, cultural and ethical implications of public relations practice discussion of issues affecting the performance and positioning of public relations, including accountability and measurement/evaluation new research in the communication/public relations field and implications for future practice the impact of new technologies on public relations practice. It is also likely that the degree will offer the opportunity to focus on areas of specialisation which are vocationally relevant Category 2 - Research For degrees requiring completion of research programs, students should have: a grounding in research methodology an understanding of diverse, but relevant theories, including interdisciplinary models a good grasp of the body of knowledge of public relations In respect of courses requiring research, the PRIA will need the following additional information: academic qualification of the staff supervising the research the Faculty s/school s supervisory policy so the PRIA can determine the level of support being provided to students level of provision of resourcing to students to enable them to travel to undertake research, attend conferences etc. access to graduate/postgraduate facilities - the type and extent of those facilities (computer, study, library facilities, etc.) opportunities for publishing student outputs.

5 The focus of graduate and postgraduate courses accredited by the PRIA will be on the development of intellectual, research, analytical, problem-solving and strategy-development capabilities. 3.4 Teaching and Learning Resources The PRIA expects that all students are provided with appropriate resources to enhance their learning experience and achieve the learning outcomes of the degree. Applicants should outline the physical and online resources available to students as well as detail how these resources are updated to ensure currency with contemporary practice. 3.5 Academic Staff The application should outline the academic and professional backgrounds of all teaching staff. The public relations degree coordinator should be a full-time, senior academic who should hold or be studying towards a PhD or other higher degree in the communication field. He/she should also have had extensive practical experience in public relations practice. Supporting the course coordinator should be academic staff who have appropriate higher degrees as well as experience in public relations practice. The application should outline how academic staff are continuing their professional development - by work in practice, by consulting, by research and/or by participation in professional organisations. Engagement of part-time teaching staff from among practitioners is to be encouraged and should be outlined in the application. The application should also provide a review of student/staff ratios to demonstrate that adequate class contact and consultation time is available for each student. It is a prerequisite for accreditation that a formal advisory committee be established to meet regularly with teaching staff and students associated with the accredited course. This committee should include senior professional Members (MPRIA or FPRIA) of the PRIA. The application should provide details of membership of this committee as well as outline the meeting schedules and relevant issues raised by committee members. 4.0 THE ACCREDITING PROCESS Applicants must complete the relevant APPLICATION FORM available from the PRIA website and provide all supporting documentation as outlined on the form. Applications are taken throughout the year. Once an application has been received, it will be assessed by a sub-committee of the National Education Committee of the PRIA. The assessment panel will comprise senior academics and senior practitioners who do not reside in the state where the application is lodged. The assessment panel may seek additional information from the applicant and may also seek information from other parties as it sees fit. The assessment panel will make its recommendation to the NEC on whether or not to accredit the degree. The NEC will then make its recommendation to the PRIA National Board. The applicant will be advised in writing of the recommendation. Provided additional information is not required, the assessment process should generally be completed within three months of lodgement of the application. Accreditation is granted for five years, subject to the successful completion of a mid term review. The mid term review will request information on any changes within the degree structure or content or staffing changes as well as follow up on any recommendations of the assessment panel made at the time of granting accreditation.

6 A procedure has been established by which accreditation is awarded to appropriate courses/programs. The accreditation process is conducted under the direction of the PRIA National Education Committee by senior academics and senior practitioners who do not reside in the state where the application is lodged. Degrees are required to renew accreditation at least every five years, with a mid term review to assess follow up on accrediation recommerndations of areas that need to be addressed, but normally to coincide with the institution's own review and reaccreditation. Once a degree has been accredited, it may use the following descriptor in its promotional material: Accredited by the Public Relations Institute of Australia. Graduates of accredited courses are eligible for entry to the professional levels of membership of the Institute. No other descriptor may be used unless permission has been granted in writing by the NEC. 5.0 SUBMITTING APPLICATIONS All applications are to be submitted via to A confirmation will be provided upon submission. This will request full payment of the accreditation administration charge of $1, for each degree to be assessed. This charge must be paid in full before the application will be assessed. Should the application for accreditation be unsuccessful, a refund of $1, per degree will be provided to the applicant. Note: In the event the degree is not approved for accreditation, members of the NEC will provide general counsel to the applicant.

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