Comparison of Canadian Master's Programs in Public Administration, Public Management and Public Policy

Article excerpt

This research compares graduate programs in public administration, public policy and public management in Canada, to the extent that these varied programs can be compared. The study had its origins in a discussion at the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA) meeting at the Canadian Centre for Management Development (CCMD) in the fall of 2003. (1) The context was a presentation on the benchmarking that occurs in the United States, and particularly the accreditation process of the American National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). While there was not much enthusiasm for full-blown accreditation, there was enthusiasm among those present for an informal comparison of curricula of professional master's programs (master of public administration (MPA) / master of public policy (MPP)), including designated programs open only to students with high-quality experience in relevant settings. Thus, the objective of the study was to compare similar programs with a view to seeing how far a common core curriculum exists.

Public administration is conceived here as the particular stewardship and accountability roles that describe the relationship of the civil servant to elected officials, as well as the geography of the state's organizations and the functions of the key elements in it. Public management seeks to maximize achievement of public-service goals at minimal cost in the above-described environment. Public policy refers to policy-making for the public good in general, as opposed to particular interests, incorporating normative considerations, the instruments of policy-making, and technical tools for research and analysis.

American studies of the evolution of public administration research and training have tracked the relative predominance of political science (the American Political Science Association created a committee on public-service training in 1912) and management (whose inception Nicholas Henry places at the founding of the journal Administrative Science Quarterly in 1956). (2) In recent decades, traditional public administration has been challenged by two other models, public policy and public management.

Recent research on master's programs in public administration in the United States reflects these categories. Researchers have asked if institutional location, program mission and staff's academic background are reflected in course offerings and degree requirements. They have also tried to establish the effect of accreditation by NASPAA on the core curriculum. Founded in 1970, NASPAA, began "rostering" programs in 1977 that generally conformed to their standards and received formal designation as an accreditation body from the Council on Post Secondary Accreditation in 1986. (3) A study of 173 master's programs published in 1990 by Robert Cleary found accreditation had not led to a standardization of curriculum even though there was already in 1986 a "reasonably widespread" agreement on an "inner core." (4) He also found that program location was relevant: freestanding schools required a more complete core curriculum, and political science programs a less complete one. The most recent study, by David Breaux and his colleagues, categorized programs, staff and courses according to whether their emphasis was on acquisition of professional skills or on knowledge of the environment of public service and administration. (5) Since Cleary's study, it would appear that accreditation has reduced considerably the variations among programs. The Breaux study found that location of the unit had more impact on the composition of the staff than it did on program components. It seems that "core curricula emphasize professional skills more than one would expect based on faculty characteristics alone" and that "cote curriculum content is not sensitive to program location." (6) Institutions that also offer a political science degree are more likely to be oriented towards the environment and less on professional skills (with the exception of public policy schools). …