Rethinking public sector education: interview with Senior Teaching Fellow, Helen Hurford-Dawson

Recent years have brought huge changes to public services as budget cuts, increased demand for services and a growing consumerist focus all continue to affect the public sector landscape.

Senior Teaching Fellow, Helen Hurford-Dawson, teaches ‘Leadership in Public Services’, ‘Programme Management’ and ‘Managing in a Political Environment’ on our 100% Online Masters of Public Administration. We asked for her experiences of lecturing in an era of rapid technological advancement and in an industry which is also changing across the globe:

“I’ve had a very long career, from chalk to electronic whiteboards. Today, we continuously monitor our students 100% online - observing their progress and redirecting them to earlier stages in the thinking process if needs be. Technology has given us an unparalleled opportunity to help correct students if there’s faulty thinking going on,” she explains.

Helen follows with, “I’m not a conventional academic: the idea of having integrated connections between the different bricks of knowledge that we give students is something I learned from my industry experience. I make a conscious effort to help students see the interconnections - take ideas and theories from various modules and piece them together to help construct answers to management problems they face at work.”

From a learning perspective, Helen endorses this mode of study. Not only do students experience a tailored tutoring approach, they also participate in networking activities with a unique pool of professionals. This is something which they would not have been able to experience if they studied a campus-based course in their own country:

“Every week, students are able to work with both peers and faculty. It’s not always synchronous (real-time), but there are so many opportunities for feeling part of a community.”

She continues, “Students can get comments and feedback from lecturers over material they’ve produced and ideas they’ve discussed. We also offer group work assignments for working with others scattered around the globe.”

However, the accessibility of online study brings it’s own challenge of relevancy for public sector professionals working in different economies and cultures. For example, what is the relevancy for learning about shrinking funds if you are working where funds are abundant?

Helen answers, “[A]pproximately two thirds of our students come from outside of the UK. While most of the ‘West’ has witnessed similar consequences of the financial crash in their public sectors, there are parts of the world where the public sector is growing well. So we balance our content to ensure that it meets the needs of our entire cohort.”

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She adds, “[W]hat’s more, austerity is unlikely to last forever. Students need to learn about managing growth as well as managing reduced resources, so we try to offer content that relates to various economic climates.”

So, how is this achieved?

“We do a lot of case study analysis from across the world - including Bangalore (the growth there that has created certain issues), United States, Bulgaria and many others. This enables students to learn from a wide catchement and, while an immediate example may not be relevant to the service a student might be managing at the time, some of the techniques will certainly transfer.”

With Helen’s expertise in distance learning and education curriculum development, she recently developed a unique case study simulation activity:

“This is where students make decisions based on the real circumstances of the case study at hand. We give them collateral – the press release, video, BBC reports and arguments from trade unions – then they choose what to do. We feed them consequences based on what they decided.”

“The key point is not whether they make the ‘correct’ decisions, but actually how effectively they analyse and describe why they made those decisions,” she explains.

Helen concludes, “[T]he course has become even more targeted in terms of delivering the skills and knowledge a student will need to work successfully in a public sector environment.”

“We are confident our programme content will equip students with the abilities to make a real impact to the ever-changing public sector in their future careers.”

If you feel that an Online Masters of Public Administration is the right programme to help you manage public resources more efficiently, please fill out our ‘request information’ form or contact a member of the Admissions Team today.

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