Only one in four universities in the U.K. is adapting its courses to reflect advances in social media, according to a survey by international technology public relations firm Lewis PR. Of the 27 registered PR courses in the U.K., only seven state inclusion of new media modules.

Even in the U.S., just 28 per cent of PR course content includes modules on blogging and new media techniques. In other European markets, the trend is similar, with only a minority of university PR and marketing degrees incorporating any online communications elements. 

A little less than a month ago, Technorati tracked its 50 millionth blog and revealed that 175,000 new web blogs are created every day. Despite this trend, universities are failing to reflect the change in consumer and media drive towards online as the first source for news content and stories.

“The PR industry needs to advocate a change in learning practices from the bottom up to enable PRs to make use of the latest tools to communicate client strategies. The majority of PR students are either learning about social media in their spare time or they are not learning about it at all,” says Drew Benvie, head of blogging services at Lewis. “Ninety percent of our clients are coming to us to discuss blogging strategies for their organizations, to deal with their audiences. Hopefully it is not just the high profile, online PR disaster stories that will drive these changes.”

The lack of background training on web media will also mean that PR companies are ill-equipped to deal with an increase in corporate investment in new media techniques. A recent survey of 100 marketing directors by Lewis suggested that 70 percent were looking to assign budget to blogging and viral projects over the forthcoming year. And PQ Media has forecast that marketing spend on social media is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of 106.1 percent over the next four years.

“New media is such a huge part of what is going on in the industry at the moment. Graduates need a good understanding of new technology and media particularly as they use it so much outside of study time, this is why we make it an integral part of the course here,” says Ann Turner, program leader at Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh.

Lewis PR’s own graduate training programme incorporates a module entitled: Online PR, blogging and RSS: the importance of new media.