International Quality Conference in Public Affairs Education



Talking Quality in Dubai


In December 7-9th, 2008, NASPAA co-hosted an international meeting on Quality in Public Affairs Education in Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates) with the American University of Sharjah, Zayed University, and the Dubai School of Government. More than 40 key people from around the world with a keen interest in quality in public affairs education gathered to make presentations and debate the “search for quality” in public affairs education. Sharjah and Zayed were wonderful hosts for the meeting, and Dubai provided an ideal setting for the discussions, bursting with energy and meteoric growth, and multiplying public administration challenges. NASPAA’s immediate past president Kathryn Newcomer presented the keynote address, entitled “Public Affairs Education: Adding Value in the Public Interest.” You can see her address and most of the presentations by going to the conference “wiki”, at www.qualityconference.wikispaces.com.

The sessions included:

  • Why focus on Quality?
  • Who Should “Drive” with Respect to Quality: the Market, the Government, or Professional Accreditors?
  • Individual countries’ approaches to assessing quality (China, US, Costa Rica)
  • The UN/IASIA “Standards of Excellence” Quality Initiative
  • Learning from Each Other and “Borrowing” Quality Initiatives across Countries
  • Strategic Positioning of the PA Curriculum: Searching for Relevance, Quality, and Competitiveness
  • The Market for PA Graduates: How Employers Define Quality
  • A Quality Curriculum: Five Perspectives (Egypt, Korea, China, US, Singapore)
Following the series of sessions, participants met in small groups to refine and operationalize the key questions about quality identified at the conference:

1. How do you articulate and measure value added outcomes?
2. What are challenges to incorporating international perspectives and students into curricula?
3. What is impact of culture on our perspectives on quality?
4. How do we motivate students to demand quality?
5. What about transferability of quality lessons to other systems?
6. How do we brand the MPA?
7. How internationally can we discuss and establish Standards?
8. How can NASPAA and EAPAA facilitate mutual learning about quality?
9. Does improving the quality of PA education translate into improving public services?
10. How effective are market forces in generating quality programs?
11. What stake do faculty and other stakeholders have in quality assurance?
12. How important is language and facilitating language in PA education?

Working Groups then went to work on framing some of the next steps. Chief among their recommendations (which are also found on the wiki at www.qualityconference.wikispaces.com):
  • It is vital to develop international branding of the MPA—by establishing greater international recognition of the MPA by employers and prospective students, it helps encourage quality around the world.
  • We need to communicating the uniqueness of what the MPA adds, in comparison to other degrees, and that we are not NOT competing with respect to market value. It is also about public service values, (which depend on the stage of social/political development in each country), such as improving people’s lives (partly through the provision of good public services), social equity, but also public accountability, etc.
  • Stakeholders play key roles in generating quality programs: Students, especially prospective students, have important expectations and perceptions regarding the “value-added” from the degree. Are we really creating educated consumers who know what they’re getting? Alumni have insight into what the actual value added was from being in the program to their career, and to other important outcomes like community involvement. We could study that. Employers are sending/funding students to attend MPA/MPP programs. What’s the opportunity cost of sending them, and what’s the value-added to the organization?
  • Faculty play an obvious role in quality. They are the repository of quality--they deliver the product, and they have to do it expertly in order to achieve quality. They need to be motivated to pursue quality, and they need to be engaged with the practice community—that is one vital guarantor of quality.
  • The search for quality can and should never end. The temporal aspect of the definition is important to remember: quality will change over time. Don’t lock in your curriculum, your approach, your mission, forever.
  • There are several pathways for communicating quality in addition to accreditation: the market, transparent provision of information through the web and other mechanisms, government licensure and “league tables”, etc.
  • There might be a role in future for the international collection and provision of indicators about public affairs schools around the world—indicators that capture the unique and important aspects of our programs, not just what Petersens guide provides.
  • We should continue networking and discussions through such mechanisms as the conference wiki, http://qualityconference.wikispaces.com. NASPAA will leave it up for at least one year.
  • Kathryn Newcomer, in her closing remarks, provided a few additional concluding recommendations:
    • We started out talking about ‘adding value’. And we found a commonality in that definition of quality, around the world.
    • There is a “Virtuous Circle” with respect to quality and the MPA: the more employers are interested, the more students are interested, the more faculty will be involved, etc.
    • Process has consumed us in quality discussions in the past, but now outcomes and concepts of value-added are becoming more prominent.
    • “International” was in the name of the conference. It refers to people attending the conference from different countries. But it also refers to the internationalizing, cross-border aspects of our programs, and the resulting internationalization of quality. The latter, the “global perspective” is very important in some countries, and of rising importance in others. This should be part of an ongoing, and growing, international discussion.