With the public sector now recognised as a major employer of graduates, courses in public administration are being launched at universities all over the UK. MPAs, seen internationally as the public sector equivalent of an MBA (masters in business administration), are a strong element in American postgraduate education, and are now increasing in popularity here.
Following a long period of decline in public management teaching, universities across the UK have introduced plans to teach courses in administration and public policy, with the aim of providing students with the skills necessary to become public service leaders and managers. The US already has over 70 postgraduate MPA programmes and around 40 currently exist at universities across Europe.
According to Warwick University, one of the first institutions to run a public administration course, the MPA has been designed as "the top-level qualification for high-flying policy-makers, leaders and managers at all levels of government." This will allow students to develop their knowledge of national, regional, local, and EU policy so that they are able to work in all parts of the public and voluntary sectors including education, health, housing, criminal justice, the arts and other public and voluntary services.
The Warwick MPA in particular is a postgraduate qualification that can be taken either as a full-time programme over one year or as a part-time modular course over 3 years (with two week residential blocks three times a year). It will be based at the Warwick Business School, but also draws on the expertise of departments of politics, economics, law, health and social policy, and other disciplines and research centres within the Social Science Faculty.
According to Professor Colin Talbot at Nottingham University, the introduction of British MPA courses at institutions like Warwick and Nottingham is important not just for the countrys public services, but also key to its role in international development. "The UK has been missing out strategically at the international level - we have been seen as a leading public sector reform country and yet postgraduate provision for overseas students has been weak and fragmented in this field," he comments.
Professor Talbot believes the courses will be a positive step for the UK, particularly as ministers and public service managers are keen to develop leadership courses for the public sector. He also predicts that the number of MPA courses will steadily increase over the next two years: "Until a couple of years ago there was only one Masters degree available in Public Administration in the whole of the UK, at Liverpool University. By the next academic year however, there will be more than a dozen, and within another year we suspect there will be between 20 to 30."
Nottingham is launching its own MPA and a Masters in Public Policy this autumn, as part of an initiative to improve collaboration between more than 100 public policy academics from more than a dozen schools across the University. It is also hoped that the programmes will provide better services for both students and practitioners of public policy and administration.
There has been an increase in new public policy and evaluation jobs created across the public sector in the UK as the government has poured money into "evidence-based policy" initiatives. For those already working in public sector jobs, or with a relevant undergraduate degree, an MPA could be a way of progressing their careers.
The courses at Warwick and Liverpool, though, have been designed specifically to meet the needs of individuals hoping to get ahead in public administration. According to Professor Talbot, there has been little training available for those wanting to learn key skills to break into the sector, but he believes the new surge in MPA provision is a step towards changing attitudes.
Public sector jobs