Monthly Archives: February 2020

Some links and research on teaching of public administration

I’ve been really surprised by the response to a recent Tweet of mine about the state of public administration teaching in the UK.

This Tweet was stimulated by a brief conversation I had with an academic at another UK business school. They were raising the fact that public administration was not taught at their institution. This is a very common picture which has been researched widely within the UK public administration community. I’ve also heard anecdotal stories from academics suggesting that there is a hostility towards anything public sector related. One such story was that a senior academic was told not to even mention the words ‘public sector’.

This contrasts with my own experience. I work at Northumbria University where there is a long history of public administration teaching and research. Currently I teach on our MSc Strategic Leadership for Public Services programme and supervise three doctoral students who are all exploring issues related to the public sector. We also have one of the largest cohorts of public administration scholars in the UK. More on how we are leading the public administration revival here.

Debates around the nature of the subject often centre around the nature and legacy of New Public Management (NPM). This was a theoretical approach which suggested that business techniques could (and even should) be applied to the public sector in order to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. Many of the central arguments of NPM have since been debunked.

Yet issues related to the unique public service context are often not fully considered in teaching of business and management. This is despite the public sector making up c.17% of UK employment and c.35% of GDP. It also fails to recognise that the private sector needs an effective public sector to support the infrastructure, culture, society and people needed for business to flourish. At the same time many public services are themselves delivered by the private sector (and increasingly the Third Sector).

This is why the UK Learned Society for public policy and administration – the JUC Public Administration Committee – have called on the public service context to be a more explicit part of undergraduate business and management degree programmes: https://www.juc.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PAC-Position-Statement-on-QAA-Subject-Benchmarks.pdf

I am continuing to research this issue. However, in the meantime please see the following references which list just some of the research that documents the history of UK public administration.

Some useful references:

Barbaris, P. (2012). Thinking about the state, talking bureaucracy, teaching public administration. Teaching Public Administration, 30 (2): 76-91. DOI: 10.1177/0144739412462232

Boyne, G. (1996). The Intellectual Crisis in in British Public Administration: Is Public Management the Problem or the Solution?, Public Administration, 74, 679-694.

Boyne, G. (2002). Public and Private Management: What’s the Difference? Journal of Management Studies, 39, 97-122. doi: 10.1111/1467-6486.00284

Carmichael, P. (2004). ‘Shackled to a Corpse?’ – A Reply to Howard Elcock. Public Policy and Administration, 19(2), 8–12. https://doi.org/10.1177/095207670401900203

Chandler, J. (1991). Public Administration: a Discipline in Decline, Teaching Public Administration, 11, 39-45.

Chandler, J. (2002). Deregulation and the Decline of Public Administration Teaching in the UK, Public Administration, 80, 375-390.

Chapman, R.A.C. (2007), “Joint University Council and the background to public policy and administration?”, Public Policy & Administration, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 7-26.

Davies, M. R., Greenwood, J., & Robins, L. (1995). Public Administration Education and Training: Globalization or Fragmentation? International Review of Administrative Sciences, 61(1), 73–78. https://doi.org/10.1177/002085239506100106

Diamond, J, Liddle, J (2012) Reflections and speculations on teaching and learning in public administration. Public Policy and Administration 27(3): 265–277

Elcock, H. (1991). Change and Decay? Public Administration in the 1990s. London, Longman.

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

Elcock, H. (2013). Local Government: Policy and Management in Local Authorities. London, Routledge.

Elliott, I.C. (2017), Verbal contribution to PSA/JUC Debate on the Future of Public Administration, PSA Annual Conference, University of Strathclyde, April 10.

Elliottt, I.C. (2018). Marking the 100th anniversary of the UK Joint University Council and anticipating the next… Teaching Public Administration, 36(1), 3–5. https://doi.org/10.1177/0144739418763847

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

Fenwick, J., & McMillan, J. (2014). Public Administration: What is it, why teach it and does it matter? Teaching Public Administration, 32(2), 194–204. https://doi.org/10.1177/0144739414522479

Gray, A, Jenkins, B (1995) From Public Administration to Public Management: Reassessing a Revolution. Public Administration 73(1): 75–99.

Greenwood, J (1999) The Demise of Traditional Teaching: Public Administration in Britain. Teaching Public Administration 19(1): 53–61.

Greenwood, J. and Eggins, H. (1995) Shifting Sands: Teaching Public Administration in a Climate of Change. Public Administration 73(1): 143–63.

Hood, C (2011) It’s public administration, Rod, but maybe not as we know it: British public administration in the 2000s. Public Administration 89(1): 128–139.

Jones, A. (2012). Where Has All the Public Administration Gone? Teaching Public Administration, 30, 124-132.

Liddle, J. (2017), “Is there still a need for teaching and research in public administration and management? A personal view from the UK”, International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 30 No. 6-7, pp. 575-583. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJPSM-06-2017-0160

Miller, K. (2012). The Future of the Discipline: Trends in Public Sector Management. In J. Diamond, & J. Liddle. (Eds.) Trends in Public Management: an Age of Austerity. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing.

Raadschelders, J.C.N. (1999) A coherent framework for the study of public administration. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 9(2): 281–303. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.jpart.a024411

Rhodes, R, Dargie, C, Melville, A, Tutt, B (1995) The State of Public Administration: A Professional History, 1970–1995. Public Administration 73(1): 1–15.

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Guest blog: Nicholas Parsons and the Osbornes and the Ackroyds

By Adrian Sinfield, Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh and Honorary Fellow of the JUC.

I doubt if the many tributes to and obituaries of Nicholas Parsons who has just died at the age of 96 will recall his great performance working with Julian Le Grand and others in The Spongers, broadcast by Granada TV on 15 May 1989. The mock panel show had Nicholas as the compere with an assistant Pandora who opened magic boxes to reveal how much or little two couples and their children, the working class Ackroyds and the middle class Osbornes, gained in benefits from the welfare state across their lifetimes.  I used a 20-minute video of it for teaching on the social division of welfare on undergraduate, postgraduate and Erasmus/Tempus courses for years. It took account of not only state benefits but some tax reliefs and some occupational benefits. Nicholas kept bringing in Julian Le Grand as ’The Professor’ to tell us who was getting what, and to explain why.  By the end of their longer lives the Osbornes were shown to have gained more than the Ackroyds. It was ideal for one of the closing sessions of my course: it generated a great deal of amusement and much relevant, often challenging discussion.  Meeting past students now, they often recall that, if nothing else.

Julian told me that Nicholas got very engaged with putting on the show and came up with suggestions that sharpened it in a number of ways. In Good Times Bad Times (2015) John Hills built very successfully on it to discredit ‘the welfare myth of them and us’ including analyses of further generations of those two families, presented as case-studies set in italic.

By a curious coincidence I heard of Nicholas’s death an hour or so after discovering that HMRC is no longer publishing its annual lists of the costs of tax reliefs and expenditures first started after much campaigning in the late 1970s. That data was integral to the Spongers analysis and much used in my course.  Instead HMRC has released a Bulletin on the Estimated Cost of Tax Reliefs which presents each costed relief in a separate table and chart. Apparently they do not want us to add them up as this is misleading.  The Office for Budget Responsibility did so in its July Fiscal Risks report. One of its tables presented ‘policy motivated’ tax reliefs from 2005-06 to 2023-4 as a percentage of GDP.  OBR regarded them as ‘large in absolute terms – approaching 8 per cent of GDP – and also by international standards’. So HMRC has thrust one less visible, less accountable but quite considerable element of the social division of welfare further back into the black box.  I can only hope that the OBR, the National Audit Office and select committees challenge this. John Stewart’s biography of Richard Titmuss, out this year, describes the difficulties he had in 1955 and again later to get consideration of these issues.

Even more now, we need more programmes like The Spongers using the skills that Nicholas had to open up the full picture of who gets what, and why.

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