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

Fenwick, John; McMillan, Janice


John Fenwick


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.


Fenwick, J., & McMillan, J. (2014). Public Administration: What is it, why teach it and does it matter?. Teaching Public Administration, 32(2), 194-204.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2014-09
Deposit Date May 26, 2015
Print ISSN 0144-7394
Electronic ISSN 2047-8720
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 32
Issue 2
Pages 194-204
Keywords MPA, Public Administration, public management
Public URL