Friday, 15 June 2018

Is public administration and public policy education in Scotland threatened?

I recently learnt from a colleague that the Master of Public Administration programme at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh is threatened with closure. This leaves Scotland with one MPA and three postgraduate programmes in public policy. Therefore the closure of this programme brings into question the entire existence of public administration as a scholarly subject in our country. Yet in practice public administration is booming – there is more that we need skilled public servants to deliver: the Scottish Parliament is gaining more powers; Scottish communities are being asked to take a greater role in the design and delivery of public services; and the demand on our public services has never been greater. Yet many public service organisations, such as community councils, charities and local authorities do not have (individually) the budgets to support Masters level professional development.

In other parts of the UK public administration scholarship is seen as vital to the economy and to civic society and so is financially supported by Government’s, For example, the Northern Ireland Executive fund civil servants to complete the first level of the MPA at Ulster University; the Welsh Government have funded an ‘All Wales Public Services Graduate Programme‘ with University of South Wales and the Welsh Centre for Public Policy at Cardiff University; and in England there are major developments taking place at many universities including Manchester Metropolitan University, Northumbria University, Nottingham Trent University, University of Birmingham and University of Exeter.

Scotland risks being perceived in this context as being hostile to public administration research and teaching. This runs counter to the ambitions of the Christie Commission, to the ethos of our Scottish Government and to the nature of the Scottish Approach to public services. Yet currently we face the very real prospect that public administration and public policy scholarship becomes restricted to the rest of the UK. We can only hope that our elected representatives will take notice and act soon before this becomes the case.

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