Written evidence submitted by Joint University Council Public Administration Committee


The Joint University Council Public Administration Committee welcomes this inquiry into Developing Workforce Skills for a Strong Economy. We argue that a strong, well-educated and skilled   public service workforce will be an essential component in this endeavour. The Joint University Council Public Administration Committee therefore states that public sector knowledge and skills must be grounded in the practical and theoretical context of public administration. This can only be provided through the professional development that is delivered  by Higher Education institutions.


  1. The JUC Public Administration Committee

1.1             The Joint University Council is the UK Learned Society for public administration and social work. In 2018 we celebrated our centenary year.

1.2             The JUC is an institutional membership organisation and through its two sectional committees, represents the vast majority of higher education institutions who teach and research in public administration and social work.

1.3             The Public Administration Committee promotes public administration, public policy and the study of governance, both through scholarly activities and as the representative organisation for those universities in which teaching and research in such subjects are undertaken. It does so through various activities, including an annual conference; research seminars; the publication of research work; and advising government, Parliament and other public bodies


  1. The need for an educated and skilled public sector work force

2.1             The modern climate demands a skilled public sector workforce (University of Birmingham Policy Commission, 2011). Sir Bob Kerslake drew attention to this in his evaluation of Birmingham City Council (2014).

2.1.1      More recently – this year the Department for Education announced it is facing challenges in recruiting to the newly developed ‘Unit for Future Skills’ because there is  a shortage of analytical skills in the public sector (DoE, 2022).

2.1.2      It is recognised that the public sector needs to refresh and upgrade its skill set if it is to meet modern day demands (Needham and Mangan, 2014; 2016).

2.2             The Kerslake Report emphasised the importance of investment in training (2014) and research attests to this, highlighting the growing importance of entrepreneurial, commercial, networking and relational roles in the sector, and the need for informed types of training and support if the sector is to flourish and deliver (Needham and Mangan, 2014)

2.2.1      There is a lack of adequate in-house training in the sector (Needham and Mangan, 2016).

2.3             Budgetary pressures across the UK public sector have had a particular impact on learning and development opportunities. This has been found to have a detrimental impact on innovation and strategic change (Elliott, 2020).

2.4             Managers must possess the necessary strategies and ‘cognitive plasticity’ to successfully negotiate and address the challenges of their role and mid-career education facilitates and shapes these competencies (Quinn, 2013), in a way that on the ground experience cannot.

2.5             The Public Services Leadership Taskforce and ongoing work by the National Leadership Centre have highlighted the need for greater development of public leadership skills across the UK public sector.

2.6             Professional education provision is now recognised as an established route to transforming public practice (Oldfield, 2017)

2.7             It is clear that public sector managers need to develop their capacity to question and reframe their positions and a particularly stark example of the need for skill requirements in the public sector is evidenced in the current cost of living crisis. Indeed, the current context requires managers to be expert, competent, in possession of appropriate strategic skills and able to secure value for money. Professional education is needed to equip managers for these ever-changing roles.


  1. Recruitment, retention and training – UK Teaching of Public Administration

3.1             The UK has steadily reduced the amount of training and development for public service professionals for many decades and where this has taken place, it has increasingly been in professional silos rather than in collaborative, generalist subject areas such as public administration. The closure of the National School of Government in 2009 and the closure of the Royal Institute for Public Administration in 1992 are both examples where there has been a lack of sustained long-term investment in professional development.

3.2             Research by our members has consistently shown a decline in the teaching of public administration[1] in the UK over the last several decades (Chandler, 1991; Chandler 2002; Elcock 2004; Fenwick and Macmillan 2014; Greenwood 1999; Johnston Miller 2012; Jones 2012). Most recently it has been noted while 30 PA programmes are delivered in the UK, only 16 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) currently offer this subject at postgraduate level (Bottom et. al., 2022).

3.2.1      A substantial proportion of UK MPA programmes hold strong links with local public service organisations. For example, Ulster University has, for over 20 years, run an MPA programme with excellent links with the Northern Ireland Civil Service. They are also the only UK university to be a member of the European Masters of Public Administration Network. Other examples of good practice within the UK include Cardiff University which offers an MPA and also hosts the Wales Centre for Public Policy.

3.3             More recently the changes to the Level 7 Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship programme have again closed off a potentially significant funding opportunity for public sector employers to support the professional development of their staff. Too often examples of good practice are developed, then closed, before being reinvented some years later.

3.4             Unfortunately, the UK’s position sits in stark contrast to mainland Europe another countries where the teaching of public administration is more prevalent. For example, a recent review of the US states of South Carolina and Minnesota demonstrated that 6 universities in the former offer Master of Public Administration (MPA) programmes while in the latter, 8 teach this programme; Scotland (with a similar population size) offers only 1 MPA.

3.5             The public service workforce is increasingly fragmented with a distinctly decentralized and disaggregated system of public administration (Elliott et al., 2021). Previous initiatives to support professional development have been largely ad hoc and opportunistic. Consequently, there has been a lack of cross-organizational learning and development of boundary-spanning skills which would typically be a feature of public administration programmes such as the MPA.


  1. Recruitment, retention and training - International Comparators

4.1             Internationally, it is recognised that greater levels of collaboration are needed to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The UN has created its own curriculum on Governance for the Sustainable Development Goals. Undoubtedly there is a key role for universities to play in supporting such initiatives. The UK would benefit from similar arrangements.

4.2             There are examples of good practice such as the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). This is a consortium of organisations including governments, universities and business schools that conduct research and education in public policy and administration including an Executive Master of Public Administration programme.


  1. Recommendations

5.1             Funding for the education of public service professionals must be protected.

5.2             Education in public administration should take place at multiple levels (undergraduate, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research) and should be delivered to a variety of student types ( e.g. full-time, part-time, early-career, mid-career).

5.3             The newly developed Leadership College for Government must learn from previous initiatives. Support for the professional development of public service workers is key to supporting more collaborative working, innovation and retention of experienced staff.

5.4             The JUC Public Administration Committee has a potentially significant role to play as the voice of UK universities that teach and research in this subject area. We welcome any opportunity to support this work further.



        Bottom K.  Elliott I. and Moller F (2022). ‘British Public Administration: The status of the taught discipline’ in Bottom K.  Dunning P. Elliott I. and Diamond J. (eds.).Handbook of Teaching Public Administration. Edward Elgar.

        Chandler, J. A. (1991). Public administration: A discipline in decline. Teaching Public Administration, 11(2), 39–45. https://doi.org/10.1177/014473949101100205

        Chandler, J. A. (2002). Deregulation and the decline of public administration teaching in the UK. Public Administration, 80(2), 375–390. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9299.00309

        Chapman R. A. (1982). Public administration education in Britain. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 6(3):48–55. DOI: 10.1080/0309877820060306

        Chapman, R.A. (1980). The PAC and teaching public administration in the 1970s. Public Administration Bulletin. 34, 9-20.

        Chapman, R.A., & Munroe, R. (1979). Public administration teaching in the civil service. Teaching Politics, 8, 1–12.

        Department for Education (13 July, 2022). Developing Workforce Skills for a Strong Economy: National Audit Office. https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Developing-workforce-skills-for-a-strong-economy.pdf 

        Elcock, H. (2004). Public administration: Why are we in the mess we’re in? Public Policy and Administration, 19(2), 3–7. https://doi.org/10.1177/095207670401900202

        Elliott, I. C. (2020). Organisational learning and change in a public sector context. Teaching Public Administration, 38(3), 270–283. https://doi.org/10.1177/0144739420903783

        Elliott, I. C., Bottom, K. A., Carmichael, P., Liddle, J., Martin, S., & Pyper, R. (2021). The fragmentation of public administration: Differentiated and decentered governance in the (dis)United Kingdom. Public Administration, 1– 18. https://doi.org/10.1111/padm.12803

        Fenwick, J., & Macmillan, J. (2014). Public administration, what is it, why teach it and why does it matter? Teaching Public Administration, 32(2), 194–204.

        Greenwood, J. (1999). The demise of traditional teaching: Public administration in Britain. Teaching Public Administration, 19(1), 53–61. https://doi.org/10.1177/014473949901900104

        Johnston Miller, K. J. (2012). The future of the discipline: Trends in public sector management. In J.  Liddle, & J. Diamond (Eds.), Emerging and Potential Trends in Public Management: An Age of Austerity (pp.1–24). Emerald.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/S2045-7944(2012)0000001004

        Jones, A, (2012). Where has all the public administration gone? Teaching Public Administration, 30(2), 124-132. https://doi.org/10.1177/0144739412462169

        Kerslake (2014), ‘The Way Forward, An Independent Review of The Governance And Organisational Capabilities Of Birmingham City Council’, Department for Communities and Local Government.

        Needham C. & Mangan C. (2014) ‘The 21st Century Public Servant’, University of Birmingham.

        Needham C. &  Mangan C. (2016) The 21st-Century Public Servant, Working At Three Boundaries of Public and Private’, Public Money & Management, 36, (4), 265-272, DOI, 10.1080/09540962.2016.1162592

        Oldfield, C. (2017) ‘Changing times, A Changing Public Sector May Require Changes to Public Management Education Programmes’ Teaching Public Administration, 35 (1), 8-21.

        Quinn, B. (2013) ‘Reflexivity and Education for Public Managers’, Teaching Public Administration, 31, (1), 6-17.

        Ridley, F. F. (1972). Public administration: Cause for discontent. Public Administration, 50(1), 65–78. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9299.1972.tb00081.x

        UUK (2019) The Future of Degree Apprenticeships [online], available at https,//www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Documents/2019/future-degree-apprenticeships.pdf London, UUK. [accessed 22/04/2020

        University of Birmingham Policy Commission (2011) 'When Tomorrow Comes', The Future of Local Public Services’, Birmingham, University of Birmingham.


October 2022




[1] Here we refer to Public Administration  (PA), the core subject area to encapsulate similar programmes, such as those titled  Public Management.