Category Archives: Learning and Teaching

Guest Blog: Postgraduate Students Face Funding Pressures

By Woody Whittick, MPA student at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

The Scottish Government have made many strong commitments to education – not least of which is the commitment to ‘free’ education for undergraduates. It has also expressed a commitment to increasing postgraduate student numbers (see here) (particularly for people sharing protected characteristics such as disability). As part of this support for postgraduates there are loans available to support both the payment of fees and living expenses: http://www.saas.gov.uk/full_time/pg/index.htm

I applied to do the Master of Public Administration (MPA) at Queen Margaret University in order to enhance my future career prospects, which have been set back by incurable health problems. However, I was shocked to discover that although postgraduate students elsewhere in Britain can access living costs (maintenance) loans whether they study full- or part-time, in Scotland only full-time postgraduates can receive maintenance loans.

This rule has put me in a catch-22 situation. Multi-systemic symptoms worsen with extended or cumulative sitting, so I can’t manage full-time work or study, or both part-time work and study. Years of limited earnings have prevented me accumulating savings. I need to study part-time, but can’t afford to without a maintenance loan.

This seems deeply unfair as the decision to only allow full-time students to receive a maintenance loan is disproportionately detrimental to disabled people and to women. We still live in a society where women are statistically more likely than men to have responsibilities for childcare or adult dependants, and therefore may be less able to study full-time or save in advance for living expenses. They may, like me, have to give up part-time work in order to study.

I have received some support from Queen Margaret University which has helped. But this doesn’t solve my living expenses problem. I have searched widely but unsuccessfully for alternative maintenance funding.

In the end I have started the MPA as a full-time student – facing no other feasible option. Unfortunately however, within a few short weeks my neurological symptoms worsened. I feel this proves my point – the current rules are discriminatory towards those with disabilities. This seems to run counter to both the Equalities Act and Human Rights legislation. However, a ‘statutory authority exemption’ applies, meaning I cannot take legal action to redress discrimination using the Equality Act. The only legal recourse is via Judicial Review, at a likely cost of c£30K+. Again, I face a seemingly insurmountable hurdle.

The current status of my case is that I am awaiting the outcome of an appeal to SAAS. I hope that the concerns I have raised, as summarised above, will be taken into account and I will be given the support I need to continue my studies. In the meantime have established that the rule originates from a 2015 statutory amendment. I discovered that the regulations have been successfully challenged at Judicial Review on the grounds of age discrimination, resulting in the upper age limit for loans being raised. I seem to be the first person to have highlighted that these regulations are also discriminatory in other ways. I also now understand that although the government has committed to undertaking Equality Impact Assessments before implementing new legislation, it seems they failed to do so in this case.

Unless my appeal to SAAS is successful and the rule is overturned (at least for me individually) I will probably have to withdraw from my studies completely. Even if SAAS find a way to apply discretion and uphold my appeal, that will not change the rules for other people. It is an incredibly frustrating situation – and one of the ironies if this is that I am not even asking for grant funding – I am only asking for a loan which I would then be required to pay back.

Thankfully there does seem to be a lot of political support for this issue. My local MSP and I have both raised concerns with the Cabinet Ministers for Education and Equality, with cross-party support from the shadow Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative MSPs with portfolios for Education or Equalities, who have all raised concerns to John Swinney through the appropriate channels. We await his response and hope that others will not face the same challenges and frustrations that I have encountered in seeking to complete postgraduate study.

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Could you inspire a future business leader?

I’ve fairly recently taken over coordination of one of our first year modules on ‘Introduction to Business’. It’s been a few years since I last worked with first year students so I’m really looking forward to it.

‘Introduction to Business’ is as it sounds. The module will introduce students to the global economic, political and social forces that shape business. We’ll be discussing how businesses compete internationally and contemporary challenges such as climate change, ethical supply chains and, of course, Brexit.

But in order to enrich the learning with real life examples I need help. I’m looking for guest speakers who have been involved in business and have a story to tell. Maybe you have started your own business? Maybe you’ve been involved in international expansion? Or has your business been affected by Brexit?

Sessions run on Friday morning from 1015-1315 from 22 September to 8 December. Please get in touch if you would like to contribute.

The core text is Janet Morrison, 2016, Global Business Environment: Challenges and Responsibilities. Available here: http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Global-Business-Environment-by-Janet-Morrison/9781137483744. Other information about the course including lecture slides will be uploaded to the university Virtual Learning Environment – The Hub.

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New Module in ‘Orwellian Doublespeak for Contemporary Public Administration’

I have developed a new core module for the Edinburgh MPA which I am very excited about. ‘Orwellian Doublespeak for Contemporary Public Administration’ will offer insights into distorting the meaning of words and the use of policy-based evidence making to create alternative facts and populist fictions.

 

Previously I have noted the importance of academics connecting with the real world and that we engage with real debates on the future of public administration. Increasingly this takes the form of dismissing experts, as previously demonstrated by Michael Gove, in preference for soundbites, unsubstantiated assertions and pure gut instinct. This module has been developed not to challenge any of this but to reflect the needs and desires of the modern workplace. Therefore I have developed this new practice-based module which will start this time next year – 1 April 2018.

 

Content includes:

Brexit – How the UK will be able to retain all the benefits of EU membership and the benefits of being outside the EU without suffering any downsides.

Fake News – How to dismiss facts and evidence with two simple words.

Scottish Independence – How it’s a great idea (for Scottish students only) OR How it’s a terrible idea (all other students).

International Relations – How to build walls not bridges – and then do neither.

 

The full module descriptor can be accessed here.

 

The module will be co-taught by both academics and appropriate experts including our Honorary Professor Donald Trump. For more information on the MPA programme please see our course pages here: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277. Applications are now open!

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Why do a PhD?

I have supervised three PhD students to completion and am currently supervising three others at various stages. Many people have spoken to me in the past about thinking about doing a PhD. Here I want to consolidate some of my thoughts on why anyone would do a PhD.

Being a PhD researcher is a great opportunity. But it’s also a significant burden. It’s important that anyone considering applying for a PhD gives it some serious thought. As a minimum it is a three year, full time, commitment. Much more so than undergraduate or other postgraduate study it is all consuming. So it can feel, though doesn’t have to be the case, that you’re life is put on hold for at least three years. At the end you may graduate with a PhD or indeed you may not. It may lead to an academic career or it may not. OK – but it’s not all bad! DON’T STOP READING YET!

So why would anyone choose to do a PhD? I think there are three things to consider: the PhD as an academic apprenticeship; choosing a research topic; and choosing a supervisor.

An academic apprenticeship

The PhD, along with the Professional Doctorate, is the highest award of degree. Unlike the Professional Doctorate (such as the DPA) the PhD is seen to a significant degree as a route towards an academic career.

Alongside your research you may also have the opportunity, or even be required, to teach. You may also have a dedicated desk or office alongside academic staff, you may be invited to take part in other aspects of university administration, you will be expected to present at academic conferences and even publish research papers. It is, typically, more than the individual dedicated study of a research topic as a lone researcher.

The end result of a PhD is that you are recognised as a peer amongst fellow academics. You are “one of us”. As such it is seen as a way to developing an academic career. At the same time you may be perceived by others as over qualified or “too academic” for other jobs. So you have to enjoy academic life and want to develop a career in academia in order to consider applying.

A research topic

The next stage in choosing to do a PhD is to consider the research topic. It has to be something that grabs your interest and sparks your intellectual curiosity. This is a topic that you will be immersed in for at least three years so you have to be really interested in the topic.

Other things to consider here are the nature of the topic. Is it located within a clearly defined subject area or discipline. Is it multi- or inter-disciplinary? Do you see yourself developing a career in that area (back to my first point). Also what links are there between the university / Director of Studies and the discipline? For example, out university is an institutional member of the UK society for public administration – the JUC Public Administration Committee. This brings with it many networking and development opportunities (again back to point one).

It’s also worth considering how any topic has been framed. Naturally most PhD students want to make a topic their own so you may want to ensure that it is not too narrowly defined and that there is scope to put your own mark on it. That is really important as again you may want to consider the type of career you want to have and ensure that the PhD topic will take you in that direction. For example my own PhD included some economics, some strategy and some public administration (and I have taught all three since). In the PhD topic I currently have advertised (see here for details) I have deliberately crafted the topic (on Leading Change in a Public Service Context) fairly broad so that any prospective student can make it their own.

A supervisor

Not only are you choosing a research topic but also a supervisor. It’s vitally important that students and supervisors have a positive relationship. So, as a student, it’s important to do your research!

I remember on my first day as a PhD student all the other students (who were already at least one year through their research) saying how lucky I was to have Prof Stephen J. Bailey as my supervisor.

In many respects the choice of supervisor is much more significant than the institution within which you conduct your research. Just because someone is based in a so-called ‘good’ university does not make them a ‘good’ supervisor! You should find out a little bit about their approach to teaching and research. Their views on students. Their perspective on the nature of the PhD. How many non-completions they have had – and why. Their links to industry and throughout academia. Ultimately upon meeting a prospective supervisor you’ll be able to make a judgement as to whether this is someone you want to work with for the next three years or not! All of these factors may have an impact on both your progress and even your potential career prospects.

Conclusion

I can only speak from my own experience – every PhD is different. I never expected to do a PhD (or even go to university for that matter). But I was fortunate to be given the opportunity of a bursary at Glasgow Caledonian. I was given a desk in a PhD office with some really amazing PhD students who I learned a huge amount from and many of whom are still close friends. I had a fantastic, challenging and yet supportive, supervisor. The PhD was really tough – and got tougher as time went on – but I learnt a huge amount from it that has underpinned my approach to teaching and research ever since. Since completing the PhD I’ve been fortunate to establish an academic career and I love what I do.

So, if you’re thinking of doing a PhD – and you’ve managed to get to the end of this blog post – GO FOR IT!

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Connecting with the Real World

I’ve written before about ‘Academics in the Real World‘ and it is an area that continues to attract much attention and debate.

I was reminded of this recently when discussing ‘student experience’ with the programme leader of our amazing MSc Gastronomy programme (see here for more information). It might seem at face value that this is a very different type of programme from our Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme. Yet the aims and objectives of these two different programmes are remarkably similar. Both have, in line with the Queen Margaret University mission, a core commitment to social justice. And both use practice-based learning to support students’ understanding of ‘the real world’.

The understanding of how policy and politics affect practice is key to understanding public administration. This is our version of ‘from farm to plate’. We need to understand the origins of policy, how it is interpreted by public service professionals, and the impact this has on individuals and communities.

Over this first year of the Edinburgh MPA we have been developing our approach to the student experience. A significant part of this is the Workplace Learning module which we have developed in association with ACOSVO to enable all our students to get ‘real world’ experience (see more here). We have also had guest speakers from the UK Civil Service Fast Track, we have attended a conference on Scotland’s Public Sector Workforce and we have visited the Scottish Parliament as shown in the following short film:

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For next year we are planning lots more activities to expose our students to the realities of public service delivery. In doing so it is important that we continue to reflect on both the political process and the impact subsequent policies have on communities.

In other words, we will always be committed to reflecting and challenging the nature of ‘the real world’.

If you would like to find out more please sign up for our Open Evening: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/bulletins/opendays.htm

Applications are now open for September 2017: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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Why become a Fellow of the HEA?

One of the things that social science academics like to discuss is the value of theory. We instill in our students the importance of academic research and theory. We discuss how theory can be used to better understand practice. We also like talking a lot about the importance of reflection; critical reflection that is underpinned by theory. Yes, theory, theory, theory. Everywhere you look there is more of it, Marxist, post-structuralist, Keynesian, feminist, the list is endless.

But do we practice what we preach? If theory and reflection are all that important then presumably we all engage in theory and reflection to underpin our own practice? Do we?

Actually, in order to become a ‘teacher’ at a university (I started in 2001/02) all you need is, ideally, one degree higher than those you are ‘teaching’. Of course it isn’t really ‘teaching’ but that might warrant another post another time. But there is no requirement for formal teaching qualifications. Or at least there wasn’t when I started.

Increasingly universities are requiring staff to undertake some form of training in teaching and learning prior to taking up a lectureship or other academic post. This is often linked to accreditation with the Higher Education Academy and aligned with the UK Professional Standards Framework. But rather than suggest that you must become a Fellow (or Senior Fellow etc) I would argue that you should become a Fellow of the HEA.

I undertook the process of applying for recognition as Senior Fellow in 2015 (via the QMU CPD Scheme). Prior to that I had not really taken much time to reflect on my approach to teaching and learning. What I did was largely the result of the many great lecturers I experienced as an undergraduate at Glasgow Caledonian University – which had so many amazing lecturers at the time that it’s impossible to list them all in one blog post. I had never truly reflected on this and considered what it was about the approach of academics there which contrasted so much with my experiences of school education and how this had impacted on my position in the seminar room / lecture hall.

The process of going through the UK Professional Standards Framework and the HEA application process forced me, for the first time, to properly engage with pedagogy. I read Mezirow, Freire and many contemporary texts on teaching and learning (references provided below). Going through these texts, and thinking critically about my own professional practice, made me much more self-aware. It helped me understand why I do some of the things I do but also made me question some of my practice. This isn’t a one-off process but something that I will continue to do.

Since I gained recognition as a Senior Fellow of the HEA a number of colleagues, from a number of universities, have asked me to send them a copy of my application. I have discussed my application and have supported colleagues in developing their ideas. But I’ve stopped short of sharing my application for one very simple reason – it would be of very little value to anyone else. My application reflects my experience, values and practice. So should yours. Every application should be unique. Every application should, in my opinion, be personal.

My top tip for applying for recognition from the HEA? Make it personal. Start with why you have chosen this career. What is it that has motivated you to be someone who supports student learning? What is it that continues to drive and motivate you.

And one more thing, don’t ask students to engage in theory and reflection if you’re not prepared to do it yourself.

 

References:

 

Astin, A. (1984) “Student Involvement: A developmental theory for higher education”, Journal of College Student Development, 25, 297-308.
Ahmed, Y., Ry Neilson, J.C., Raine, J. and Synnott, M. (2013) ‘Special Issue on Developing the Reflexive Public Manager’, Teaching Public Administration. 31: 3 pp.3-5.
Allan, J. (2013) “Foucault and his acolytes”, in Murphy, M. (ed) (2013) Social Theory and Education Research, London: Routledge.
Alvesson, M. and Willmot, H. (1992) (eds) Critical Management Studies, Sage: London.
Apple, M.W. (1982) Education and Power, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
Ball, S.J. (ed) (2004) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University, SHRE and Open University Press.
Biggs, J and Tang C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill and Open University Press.
Bloom, B.S. (1979) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay.
Brookfield, S.D. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. (1987) “Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education”, American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, 39 (7): 3-7.
Demaine, J. (ed.) (2001) Sociology of Education Today, Hampshire: Palgrave.
Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, London: MacMillan.
Elias, D. (1997) It’s time to change our minds: An introduction to transformative learning. ReVision, 20(1).
Entwistle , N. (1988). Styles of Learning and Teaching, London: David Fulton.
Fairclough, N. (2001) Language and Power, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge.
Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S. (2009) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, 3rd Edition.
Joyce, P. and Coxhead, F. (2012) “Ideas and Issues in University Education for Public Services Leaders”, Teaching Public Administration, April: 1-12.
Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching, a framework for the effective use of educational technology, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge.
Lees, H. (2013) ‘Silence as a pedagogical tool’, Times Higher Education, 22 August 2013.
Little, B., Locke, W., Scesa, A., and Williams, R.(2009) Report to HEFCE on student engagement. Centre for Higher Education Research and Information, The Open University February 2009, available online at: https://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/pubs/2009/rd0309/rd03_09.pdf
Lucas, U. and Milford, P. (2009) Key aspects of teaching and learning in accounting, business and management”, in Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S. A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, 3rd Edition, p382-404
Meighan, R. and Harber, C. (2007) A sociology of Educating, 5th Edition, London: Continuum International Publishing.
McKimm, J. (2009) Teaching Quality, Standards and Enhancement, in Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (eds) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 3rd Edition, London: Routledge, pp. 186-197.
Reay, D. (2004) “Finding or Losing Yourself? Working-class relationships to education”, in Ball, S.J. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Smyth, J. and Shacklock, G. (2004) “Teachers doing their ‘economic’ work” in Ball, S.J. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Synnott, M. (2013) “Reflection and double loop learning”, Teaching Public Administration, 31: 124-134.
Papert, S. (1993). The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer, New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, J. (1977) Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Quinn, B. (2013) “Reflexivity and education for public managers”, Teaching Public Administration, 31: 6-17.
Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education, London: Routledge.
Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Werthman, C. (1963) “Delinquents in schools: a test for the legitimacy of authority’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 8: 39-60.
Zaretsky, R. (2013) ‘If silence is golden, we should invest in it during seminars’, Times Higher Education, 8 August 2013.

 

 

 

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Do league tables matter?

League tables are most commonly associated with football. Everyone knows that the team who wins the most games goes up the league table. The team who finishes top at the end of the season our the league champions. Having won the league the champions may secure promotion to a higher league or entry to other competitions such as the Champions League or Europa League. And everyone knows that Partick Thistle are, on that basis, not as ‘good’ a team as Celtic, Aberdeen or Hearts. Yet I still support the Jags and think they are better for lots of different reasons.

So, what about league tables in the context of Higher Education? One of the challenges here is knowing what counts as success? It’s not as simple as scoring goals – there is research output, student satisfaction, completion rates, student-staff ratios, employability. And how highly should each of these be ranked? Each league table rates these factors to differing degrees (see here for more comparison of league tables). As well as the most well known tables, such as The Guardian and Times Higher there are also a number of alternative league tables (see here for more). So the overall picture is incredibly complex, even confusing. Hardly surprising when we consider the complex nature of public services (as I’ve written about previously).

There are many question marks around the way figures are reported and potential gaming that takes place in order for universities to increase their performance. Issues like, for example, whether those universities that score well in research are doing so at the expense of their teaching and learning – and do research active staff also engage in teaching or is this primarily delivered by lowly paid staff on causal contracts or PhD students?

Another challenge is the way in which all institutions are compared on the same metrics and in the same table. It is rather like having Partick Thistle and Real Madrid in the same league and expecting them to be equally competitive. Consider, for example, that the University of Edinburgh was founded in 1583, has 6,422 academic staff, 6,458 non-academic staff, endowments of £14.4m  in 2008-09 and total income of £592m (see the Facts and Figure 2016). QMU gained full university status in 2007 (having been first established in 1875 – almost 300 years later than UoE), has a total of 251 academic staff (including researchers) and total income of £38m in 2014-15 (which is actually about half of what Cambridge University received in endowments alone in the same year) (more Facts and Figures 2016). So in terms of headcount alone University of Edinburgh has 26 times the resources that we have at QMU and yet we are expected to compete against the same metrics. To extend the football analogy it’s like playing a team of 286 players against a standard team of 11 players. In this context it might seem that university league tables are truly absurd and best ignored.

Alternatively we could consider the extent to which any one university moves in the rankings year on year. Recently QMU went down on The Guardian league table from 76th to 101st place (see the full table here). But does that mean we have got so much worse over the last twelve months? Again rather than looking at the league table as a whole it might be helpful to compare our closest competitors: Edinburgh Napier (down from 64th to 70th), Glasgow Caledonian (down from 89th to 99th) and Abertay University (up from 93rd to 85th). What this shows is that institutions do tend to move quite a lot year on year. It would seem that very small changes in some of the metrics can result in a very large shift in the league table position. So again, league tables don’t say very much.

Of course, if universities were compared on a per capita basis some of the stats might appear very different. One might ask what on earth do larger, more established universities do with £1bn of expenditure a year or with 26 times the number of staff of smaller institutions. I would argue that QMU generates a lot of benefit with a very small percentage of the income that more established universities enjoy every year. Actually, I think that we are an excellent university. I know that we punch well above our weight and that our staff are incredibly committed to the student experience. I know that we have improved significantly over the seven years that I have worked there. I know there are still things that could improve – but I know that everyone is committed to making that improvement happen.

As just one example of our commitment to the student experience our our recent staff away day focused entirely on our undergraduate provision – and three students were invited to join us for part of the day to discuss their experience. I’ve never known that to happen at any other academic staff away day. And the one common thread across the entire day was how can we improve the student experience and the employability of our graduates. Everyone believes it and everyone is committed to it.

If you want a great experience as a student I can’t promise that you’ll get it at QMU – but what I can promise is that we’ll do everything we can to make it a great experience. What’s more, I know that if you don’t have a positive experience we will ask for your feedback, we will listen AND we will take action.

But here’s the thing; if a student has a negative experience at university, or perhaps doesn’t get the degree they wanted to get, who is ultimately to blame? I actually think it’s misleading to consider the success of a university as being solely down to the performance of the staff. Actually, much of our ‘success’ as measured by league tables, is not within our control. A university is as much a collection of students as it is a group of academics, academic-related and other professional and support services staff. In this sense the analogy with football is clearly completely preposterous – with football the success is down the players on the pitch; with universities the success is as much down to the fans on the stands (the students) as it is down to the players on the pitch. And while it may be easy for football clubs to buy new players during the transfer season what can a university do if the students do not engage in the learning activities in the way that they should? Of course we can encourage students and create learning activities that students want to engage with. But failing that all we can do is award those students lower grades – which then affects our league table position.

So please tell me, what can Partick Thistle do to compete with Real Madrid. And what can WE do to compete with Cambridge?

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Coffee, lunch, education, networking, experience, trip to Brussels!

EU Referendum, elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, English local councils, London Mayor and London Assembly, police and crime commissioner elections. May 2016 is due to be a busy month for all of those with an interest in Politics, Policy and Public Administration. At a global level the development of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal’s and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change represent major challenges for all those working in public service contexts. All of this means that the next few weeks and months will undoubtedly involve a degree of change for our public services.

At QMU we are bringing together some of the top thinkers in public administration for a research colloquium on Friday 13 May 2016 in order to contribute to ongoing debates around the successful leadership of change in our public services. Attendance for delegates is FREE as this event has been kindly sponsored by the Joint University Council’s Public Administration Committee (of which we are an institutional member).

Spaces are limited so please book now to reserve your place: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/leading-change-in-public-services-tickets-24921644309

Confirmed speakers include Prof Paul Cairney, University of Stirling, Scotland, Prof Paul Joyce, Universite Libre de Bruxelle, Belgium, and Prof Jari Stenvall, University of Tampere, Finland. As well as learning about the latest academic research delegates will benefit from some key insights into professional practice from Dave Watson, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland and Steve Toft, Director of Crucible and writer of Flip Chart Fairy Tales. A full draft agenda is available here.

Following this conference we will be publishing a short report and speakers will be invited to contribute to a special issue of a peer-reviewed academic journal.

This FREE event is just one example of the type of learning experience that can be expected by students on our new MPA programme. We always endeavor to build the research base of our teaching and engage with policy and practice. By doing so we can assure that our postgraduate programmes are context-driven and problem-focused.

Previously we have also been able to offer our students free places at other professional conferences. We also have a number of great guest speakers (though this does not include Donald Trump!).We are also able to offer free tuition through a number of scholarship schemes and tuition fee loans from SAAS. There are also SAAS living-cost loans up to £4,500 available to cover living expenses while studying. Other scholarship information is available here. We will also be offering free workplace learning opportunities to all students on the programme in association with ACOSVO. And, we are able to offer tuition fees at a reduced rate as this is a new programme.

As well as offering extensive support to our students we are also able to offer an excellent student experience. The following short video illustrates some of the benefits of being a QMU postgraduate student. We are also current planning excursions and fieldtrips for our new MPA students including a trip to the Scottish Parliament and to the EU Parliament in Brussels.

As well as all this we have recently validated a Professional Doctorate in Public Administration (DPA) whereby students from the MPA will have the opportunity to transfer over to the DPA after having completed six modules (and meeting other entry criteria). More on this later!

We are keeping student numbers on our new MPA low in order to be able to provide an excellent student experience so to reserve a place on the programme please apply now: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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ACOSVO Leadership Exchange

As part of our new MPA programme we have developed a partnership with the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO) to include a practical experience opportunity for our students. For some of our students this will involve participating in ACOSVO’s highly innovative Leadership Exchange programme.

In order to gain some first hand experience of this programme – and to develop my own professional practice – I took part in a leadership exchange over the last six months. The following is offered as a reflection on my participation.

I was paired with Andy Dey, Operations and Development Manager at ACOSVO. The purpose of our exchange was largely to explore the links between our two organisations and, for me, to get experience of the Leadership Exchange prior to it becoming a core part of our new MPA programme. This last point was important as I wanted to make sure I had a concrete understanding of the process before advising our new students. But equally the former purpose was necessary so that we could scope out together how our two very different organisations would work together in supporting students on the MPA.

The first thing to note about my particular exchange was that, as exchange partners, we could not be more different in our backgrounds and experience. Andy has experience at a senior level in the military (RAF/Air Commodore) and third sectors, including the running of multi-million pound, multinational organisations. I am an academic (albeit I do work in the real world!).

This difference was not a barrier to learning. In fact, I would argue that having people working together from different organisations and backgrounds is an enabler of learning. What is important for learning to take place is that both parties are open to the opportunity and are willing to challenge and question their own practices, values and beliefs. In doing so it’s important that both parties in the exchange respect the others’ perspective. I’m reminded of my favourite Rabbie Burns poem, To a Louse,

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

With any learning or development opportunity it’s important that those engaged in the process enter into it with the right mindset. If one party approaches any learning opportunity thinking ‘I know best’ then realistically there won’t be much learning!

So whilst the exchange partners may come from different backgrounds and experiences it is important that they share a common purpose. Thus the first stage in the ACOSVO leadership exchange process, filling out the application form, includes questions such as:

  • What are your areas of experience and knowledge which might be of interest for an exchange partner?
  • What topics would you like to explore during your exchange?
  • What would you like to gain from a Leadership Exchange

Within our MPA programme we are extending this by requiring students to complete a Tripartite Agreement between the university, their exchange partner and themselves. This will detail their anticipated learning outcomes from the exchange and the types of activities that they will be involved in to achieve these outcomes.

Within my exchange the key outcomes were clear and were shared between myself and my exchange partner so that the experience was a positive one. We met a number of times at both ACOSVO and at the university. I was able to sit in on an ACOSVO board meeting and Andy contributed to one of our Collaborations Operations Group (COG) meetings. As well as our meetings we had regular email communications. Again, communication is important for any learning experience to work – not to mention partnership working.

For our MPA students there will be a requirement that they attend four campus-based sessions about the workplace learning element of the programme. For those going through the leadership exchange there is a requirement that 24 hours of ‘contact time’ be used within the Leadership Exchange itself. This might equate to six half day (4 hour) sessions or three full day (8 hours) sessions. Again there needs to be this level of commitment and engagement in order to get the most out of it – particularly when benchmarked against Master’s level learning outcomes.

But what did I get out of it? A greater appreciation of the great work done within the Third Sector; positive affirmation that what we do as a university in terms of governance and quality assurance is of a very high standard; and contact with a hugely experienced Third Sector leader – who also happens to be a great guest speaker! But most of all I would say that my experience on the leadership exchange made me realise just how great the idea of leadership exchange is – and the case studies from others who have taken part testify to the value of this programme.

I would recommend the ACOSVO Leadership Exchange programme to anyone who genuinely wants to develop their professional practice. I’m delighted that at least one of my colleagues from the senior management team at QMU has embarked on a leadership exchange having heard about my experience – hopefully others will follow. Moreover I know that the MPA programme will be a terrific learning experience for all involved and I can’t wait to get started in September!

Applications for our new MPA, in partnership with ACOSVO, are now open. Click here to apply.

 

 

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Academics in the Real World

I’m often asked if I have any real world experience. Sometimes I’m even told ‘what would you know about the real world’. There are so many flaws in both those standpoints (and much has been written about this previously) but I think there is another important point to consider. What is happening here, is that there is a perception that universities, and by extension those who work in them, are somehow different from everyone else. That we are not ‘real’.

The fact that, in Scotland over 56% of the population attend university has seemed to have been ignored. University education is for all – all ages, all backgrounds, anyone with a thirst for learning. It’s not some distant or exclusive ivory tower. We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns – even academics.

But more than that, I believe that everything we do in universities, has some form of practical focus and thus some basis in ‘reality’. One of my favourite quotes is by Kurt Lewin (1951):

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory”.

To develop any theory we may conduct experiments, collect surveys or observe communities. Then, when we then want our research to have an impact, again we are drawn to working with external organisations and professionals. Whatever the methodology, whatever the subject matter and whatever the impact there is always an external motivation and focus to our work.

For me this is absolutely critical – and the idea that ‘practical’ and ‘theory’ are diametrically opposed is utter nonsense. Yes, theory may not always work out the way we had hoped or anticipated, but that is not to say that it doesn’t matter. One of our students, who is Head of Policy, Performance and Development at Anytown Council, summed it up by saying about our postgraduate programme that,

“[This course] covers very contemporary and relevant issues – which aids the application of learning into the practical work environment. A good level of engagement with academic literature and research enhances this further. In a very time-constrained work life there is value in this course and I have not regretted my investment of time (which isn’t always the case!!)”.

In other words, theory enhances practice! In my own work I have been fortunate to work with many external organisations. I have delivered a PgCert to public servants on behalf of Academi Wales and I’m currently supporting delivery of an MSc Public Services Leadership to City of Edinburgh Council, Dundee City Council and Orkney Islands Council.

Recently, I have been involved in developing a new MPA programme. Again we wanted to make sure there were strong links with appropriate external organisations. As a result we have set up a partnership with the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO) to enable all students on our MPA to take part in some form of work experience while studying. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to see the links between theory and practice first hand.

We are offering this MPA to individuals and to organisations. And we are always keen to work with external organisations to support employees and to inform the delivery of excellent public services. What’s more, we have arranged a special discounted fee level for this programme for it’s first year. But does the ‘real world’ want to work with us? Well, assuming that’s where you are right now – let me know!

 

This post is also listed on LinkedIn where there have been a number of very interesting comments posted about the extent to which those working in universities can support those in other public services. This can be viewed here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/academics-real-world-ian-c-elliott

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