What is the Master of Public Administration?

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
July, 2016

Looking to boost your public sector managerial credentials? The Master of Public Administration (MPA) could be the qualification for you…

The MPA is rapidly becoming the most prestigious qualification for public servants worldwide. It provides budding managers with the competencies and knowledge that they require to lead in the public sphere.

It's similar to the Master of Business Administration (MBA), in that it's classed as a 'post-experience' Masters programme. Most students will therefore possess at least two years' managerial and/or public sector work experience. Indeed, many study the qualification part time while employed within the police force, National Health Service (NHS), local government, or the teaching and education sector.

However, unlike the MBA, the qualification doesn't necessarily reject new graduates or those with only limited managerial experience.

Who is the MPA aimed at?

Dr Ian C. Elliott, co-director of the Master of Public Administration at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, says that the qualification is especially useful for private sector managers looking for a transition into the public realm. This is because their techniques don't necessarily translate into public sector environments.

'Different skillsets and perspectives are needed to transform public services,' adds Dr Elliott. 'Studying an MPA, as opposed to an MBA, can help to develop these new skills and perspectives.'

What's more, MPA students in the UK are from all over the world. For example, since its foundation in 2009, the University of Birmingham's MPA has attracted students from as far afield as Brunei, Japan, South Africa and Canada.

Where can I study an MPA?

Currently, more than ten institutions in the UK offer the MPA. These include The University of Nottingham, the University of Exeter, University College London, and Queen Mary, University of London, as well as the aforementioned University of Birmingham and Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. Courses usually start in September.

The cost of the MPA at these institutions varies. For a one-year, full-time programme, 2016/17 tuition fees for UK and European Union (EU) students range from £4,500 at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh to £16,500 at the University of Exeter. Part-time options are widely available too, usually at half the annual cost but lasting twice as long. Applications are made directly to the institution.

Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh and University of Nottingham also offer a postgraduate diploma in the subject. The programme is exactly the same as the MPA - but without the 15,000-word dissertation.

What does an MPA involve?

Programmes are usually like standard Masters degrees in their delivery, involving lectures, group work and class discussion.

Course content varies, but Dr Elliott explains that some programmes follow curriculums similar to the MBA - drawing upon fields including law, economics, sociology and political science. IT, healthcare, education, transportation, urban planning, cultural policy, environmental policy, emergency management and managerial accounting are commonly reoccurring topics.

Dr Elliott's course is much more tailored to the public service context, with specialist modules on: gender and equality; social justice and critical perspectives on the state; international trends in public administration; and leading change in public services. The programme also includes a leadership exchange, where students gain the benefit of work-based learning in different public and third-sector organisations.

'In designing the curriculum, our starting point was to consider what makes public services distinctive: their central role in promoting social justice and equality,' he reveals. 'Rather than reflect public services, the state and society, this MPA programme aims to shape the public service landscape of tomorrow.'

What do MPA graduates do?

While an MPA can be expensive and time-consuming, the career rewards can be sizeable.

Most graduates will continue or pursue careers in the public and third sectors, with many becoming managers and policy analysts. This is because many employers, including those in non-governmental organisations (NGOs), admire and require the high-level professional policymaking skills that the MPA develops.