Public Administration: What is it, why teach it and does it matter?

John Fenwick, Janice McMillan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


What is understood by “public administration” in the contemporary UK higher education setting? Is it still being taught and, if so, why? These questions initially appear to be fairly straightforward but any review of the topic quickly poses some rather more tricky areas of enquiry. This article will focus upon three central questions. First, some persistent issues surrounding public administration as a field of research and enquiry provide a problematic start for any discussion: what is meant academically by public administration and does it retain any scholarly meaning, or any disciplinary base(s) that warrants its location in university departments? Is it distinct from public policy and public management or can it now be wholly subsumed within these more readily understood (and more marketable) categories? Second, there are difficult issues around public administration as a field of practice in a highly turbulent public sector world. Public administration (especially in its received meaning from the continental European tradition) was predicated upon stability, structure and law. Contemporary UK public administration is built upon flux and uncertainty. Third, the pedagogic aspects of teaching this elusive area raise significant additional issues, compounded by the differences between teaching a practitioner audience of public administrators (perhaps allied to work-based learning delivery) alongside, or in place of, an academic social or political science audience. Business schools have grown as the main site for such teaching. Differentiated modes of teaching have proliferated while the focus of what is taught has grown more elusive. Teaching public administration starts to look like quite a rich and contested area of academic activity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-204
JournalTeaching Public Administration
Issue number2
Early online date11 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


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