The Stories We Tell

I’ve not been blogging much of late due to a number of other priorities around marking, teaching prep, research writing and conference attendance. In amongst all of that I’ve had three lovely weeks off at the start of August. For many people the summer holidays are a time to catch up with some reading. For me this largely involves Julia Donaldson books. But recently I discovered a new favourite – Yertle the Turtle by Dr Seuss. Here is why it should be required reading in every Business School.

Yertle the Turtle is a story about a King Turtle, called Yertle, who becomes increasingly power hungry. Not satisfied with his status as King of the pond he requires his subjects to work harder in order to extend his realm. As his status rises so the burden of those below him also increases to the point where they are in great pain and hunger. Yet as Yertle continues to rise high into the clouds his link with those below him becomes ever weaker and ultimately his hubris leads to his demise. It is a fantastic story (available to purchase here:

This is a children’s book. Like other children’s books the focus is on fair play and the importance of sharing. We constantly tell our children to play nice, to respect others, to always say please and thank-you. When do we think this should stop?

At some point our childhood learning is dismissed and replaced by mechanisms of management and governance that both enable and actively encourage individualised efforts and game playing. Team-work and shared goals are shunned and often the vision of ‘great man’ leadership is espoused. Even within education group-work for students is often avoided, especially assessed group-work, due to the problems associated with perceived ‘free-riders’. In research sole-authored academic papers are (at least in social sciences) considered superior to co-authored works. In many organisations promotion and reward criteria are often based on individual efforts and evidence of individual impact. Across corporations, and increasingly the public and Third Sectors, this mantra is reflected in the rise of CEO pay packets whilst at the same time tax avoidance and pay restraint for other employees are seen as common and accepted business practice.

Should Yertle be seen as the villain of the piece or someone to admire – ambitious, assertive and driven? Do we lose something by failing to recognise the value of sharing and team-work in business and management? Or should we tell our children different – to look after number one, that greed is good, to be ruthless in their negotiations and never trust anyone? Would that help them face the realities of life or, dare I say, improve their employability?

Should we teach our children different – or is it us who could do with a lesson?

For another example of the stories we tell see this episode of Peppa Pig in relation to debates around Brexit:




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Something positive

I’m just back from the Social Policy Association conference in Belfast. It was a great conference with lots of very engaging speakers discussing their latest research. Topics included:

  • Economic and domestic violence
  • Food poverty
  • Young people, precarity and security
  • Pension inequality
  • Taxation and austerity


There was also a special session organised on ‘the consequences of Brexit’.


Some of the highlights for me included a plenary session by Kathryn Edin discussing her new book – ‘$2 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America‘ and a presentation by Lorenza Antonucci about her new book – ‘Student Lives in Crisis: Deepening inequality in times of austerity‘.


These are two great books that I would thoroughly recommend. I was going to write some more about both – but you can just buy the books. What’s more, I was trying to come up with something positive to write about following the conference. But, as you can probably guess from some of the topics listed above, this isn’t easy.


There is much to worry about. And I don’t want to diminish any of that in any way. Global recession, European disintegration, war, terrorism, rising inequality. Yes, it’s all there. But this is not the 1930’s. My dad was born in the 1930’s – and as I sit in a warm, well lit library drinking fresh Americano and type this blog on my notebook using the free Wi-Fi available I’m made all too aware of that. Yes, I do have a privileged position and others aren’t nearly so fortunate. But this still is not the 1930’s. There’s much to feel positive about despite all the worrying news.


And what can be done with worry anyway? I’m reminded of the Serenity Prayer. I’m not a religious person but I think there is an important message in this – especially in difficult times such as these:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.


So let’s focus on the things we can change, embrace the opportunities that we have to make change happen, and celebrate the fact that we all can make a difference. Happy Monday!


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The Emotional Impact of Brexit

Change is an emotional process. Any change whether personal, organisational or indeed constitutional is likely to feed into our hopes, dreams, anxieties or fears. The extent to which change can be an emotional process is particularly apparent when we are not in control of the change process. So it is for over 48% of the UK population including 62% of the Scottish population after the vote to leave the EU last Thursday.


The nature of the emotional impact of change has been characterised by Kübler-Ross in her Grief Cycle which was originally established to reflect the nature of the grieving process. There have been many versions of the original Grief Cycle created since. One such version is listed below for reference:




Later research by many organisational behaviour and change management academics has linked this process to the emotional impact of organisational change. We can also see how, over the last few days, this Grief Cycle reflects many of the emotions that have been felt by the electorate and how this can help explain (admittedly to a small extent) the events that have happened since.



This isn’t really happening. There can be another referendum (see here and here). Maybe Scotland can stop it from happening (see here). Maybe there should be another election which will stop it (see here).



Why is this happening? It’s all the fault of old people. It’s all the fault of poor people. It’s all the fault of uneducated people. See here, here and here.



Maybe I’ll emigrate to Canada / Australia / New Zealand / France. Maybe I’ll get an Irish passport (see here and here). Maybe we can delay it for two or three years (see here). If that’s what’s happening I’m going to resign (as with Prime Minister, Labour MP’s etc).



There’s really nothing I can do.



OK, it really is happening. There’s no point whining about it anymore – we’ve just got to get on with it.


Move on:

There may be opportunities here. Let’s work with others to make the most of things.


What next?

It is best not to make significant decisions immediately following and in response to any significant change event. Those who have remained fairly silent over the weekend have undoubtedly done the right thing in taking time to reflect and analyse the situation before making any major steps. It is important that the electorate and markets are given every possible reassurance and that they are supported through this emotional process. All the announcements so far from the UK Government have rightly been about stability and reassurance.


It is important to recognise that this is an emotional process. That’s not to say that all that has happened, and all that will happen, can be explained by the Grief Cycle. That would be far too simplistic. All I would argue is that it provides part of a wider picture of what is happening right now – and that it is an important part of the picture that should be recognised in moving forward.


What is needed now is strong but emotionally intelligent leadership. The transitions cannot be rushed. But the sooner that the electorate, and our elected representatives, accept the new reality and begin to move on the better.

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Why become a Fellow of the HEA?

One of the things that social science academics like to discuss is the value of theory. We instill in our students the importance of academic research and theory. We discuss how theory can be used to better understand practice. We also like talking a lot about the importance of reflection; critical reflection that is underpinned by theory. Yes, theory, theory, theory. Everywhere you look there is more of it, Marxist, post-structuralist, Keynesian, feminist, the list is endless.

But do we practice what we preach? If theory and reflection are all that important then presumably we all engage in theory and reflection to underpin our own practice? Do we?

Actually, in order to become a ‘teacher’ at a university (I started in 2001/02) all you need is, ideally, one degree higher than those you are ‘teaching’. Of course it isn’t really ‘teaching’ but that might warrant another post another time. But there is no requirement for formal teaching qualifications. Or at least there wasn’t when I started.

Increasingly universities are requiring staff to undertake some form of training in teaching and learning prior to taking up a lectureship or other academic post. This is often linked to accreditation with the Higher Education Academy and aligned with the UK Professional Standards Framework. But rather than suggest that you must become a Fellow (or Senior Fellow etc) I would argue that you should become a Fellow of the HEA.

I undertook the process of applying for recognition as Senior Fellow in 2015 (via the QMU CPD Scheme). Prior to that I had not really taken much time to reflect on my approach to teaching and learning. What I did was largely the result of the many great lecturers I experienced as an undergraduate at Glasgow Caledonian University – which had so many amazing lecturers at the time that it’s impossible to list them all in one blog post. I had never truly reflected on this and considered what it was about the approach of academics there which contrasted so much with my experiences of school education and how this had impacted on my position in the seminar room / lecture hall.

The process of going through the UK Professional Standards Framework and the HEA application process forced me, for the first time, to properly engage with pedagogy. I read Mezirow, Freire and many contemporary texts on teaching and learning (references provided below). Going through these texts, and thinking critically about my own professional practice, made me much more self-aware. It helped me understand why I do some of the things I do but also made me question some of my practice. This isn’t a one-off process but something that I will continue to do.

Since I gained recognition as a Senior Fellow of the HEA a number of colleagues, from a number of universities, have asked me to send them a copy of my application. I have discussed my application and have supported colleagues in developing their ideas. But I’ve stopped short of sharing my application for one very simple reason – it would be of very little value to anyone else. My application reflects my experience, values and practice. So should yours. Every application should be unique. Every application should, in my opinion, be personal.

My top tip for applying for recognition from the HEA? Make it personal. Start with why you have chosen this career. What is it that has motivated you to be someone who supports student learning? What is it that continues to drive and motivate you.

And one more thing, don’t ask students to engage in theory and reflection if you’re not prepared to do it yourself.




Astin, A. (1984) “Student Involvement: A developmental theory for higher education”, Journal of College Student Development, 25, 297-308.
Ahmed, Y., Ry Neilson, J.C., Raine, J. and Synnott, M. (2013) ‘Special Issue on Developing the Reflexive Public Manager’, Teaching Public Administration. 31: 3 pp.3-5.
Allan, J. (2013) “Foucault and his acolytes”, in Murphy, M. (ed) (2013) Social Theory and Education Research, London: Routledge.
Alvesson, M. and Willmot, H. (1992) (eds) Critical Management Studies, Sage: London.
Apple, M.W. (1982) Education and Power, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
Ball, S.J. (ed) (2004) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University, SHRE and Open University Press.
Biggs, J and Tang C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill and Open University Press.
Bloom, B.S. (1979) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay.
Brookfield, S.D. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. (1987) “Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education”, American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, 39 (7): 3-7.
Demaine, J. (ed.) (2001) Sociology of Education Today, Hampshire: Palgrave.
Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, London: MacMillan.
Elias, D. (1997) It’s time to change our minds: An introduction to transformative learning. ReVision, 20(1).
Entwistle , N. (1988). Styles of Learning and Teaching, London: David Fulton.
Fairclough, N. (2001) Language and Power, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge.
Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S. (2009) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, 3rd Edition.
Joyce, P. and Coxhead, F. (2012) “Ideas and Issues in University Education for Public Services Leaders”, Teaching Public Administration, April: 1-12.
Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching, a framework for the effective use of educational technology, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge.
Lees, H. (2013) ‘Silence as a pedagogical tool’, Times Higher Education, 22 August 2013.
Little, B., Locke, W., Scesa, A., and Williams, R.(2009) Report to HEFCE on student engagement. Centre for Higher Education Research and Information, The Open University February 2009, available online at:
Lucas, U. and Milford, P. (2009) Key aspects of teaching and learning in accounting, business and management”, in Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S. A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, 3rd Edition, p382-404
Meighan, R. and Harber, C. (2007) A sociology of Educating, 5th Edition, London: Continuum International Publishing.
McKimm, J. (2009) Teaching Quality, Standards and Enhancement, in Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (eds) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 3rd Edition, London: Routledge, pp. 186-197.
Reay, D. (2004) “Finding or Losing Yourself? Working-class relationships to education”, in Ball, S.J. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Smyth, J. and Shacklock, G. (2004) “Teachers doing their ‘economic’ work” in Ball, S.J. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Synnott, M. (2013) “Reflection and double loop learning”, Teaching Public Administration, 31: 124-134.
Papert, S. (1993). The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer, New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, J. (1977) Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Quinn, B. (2013) “Reflexivity and education for public managers”, Teaching Public Administration, 31: 6-17.
Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education, London: Routledge.
Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Werthman, C. (1963) “Delinquents in schools: a test for the legitimacy of authority’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 8: 39-60.
Zaretsky, R. (2013) ‘If silence is golden, we should invest in it during seminars’, Times Higher Education, 8 August 2013.




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Do league tables matter?

League tables are most commonly associated with football. Everyone knows that the team who wins the most games goes up the league table. The team who finishes top at the end of the season our the league champions. Having won the league the champions may secure promotion to a higher league or entry to other competitions such as the Champions League or Europa League. And everyone knows that Partick Thistle are, on that basis, not as ‘good’ a team as Celtic, Aberdeen or Hearts. Yet I still support the Jags and think they are better for lots of different reasons.

So, what about league tables in the context of Higher Education? One of the challenges here is knowing what counts as success? It’s not as simple as scoring goals – there is research output, student satisfaction, completion rates, student-staff ratios, employability. And how highly should each of these be ranked? Each league table rates these factors to differing degrees (see here for more comparison of league tables). As well as the most well known tables, such as The Guardian and Times Higher there are also a number of alternative league tables (see here for more). So the overall picture is incredibly complex, even confusing. Hardly surprising when we consider the complex nature of public services (as I’ve written about previously).

There are many question marks around the way figures are reported and potential gaming that takes place in order for universities to increase their performance. Issues like, for example, whether those universities that score well in research are doing so at the expense of their teaching and learning – and do research active staff also engage in teaching or is this primarily delivered by lowly paid staff on causal contracts or PhD students?

Another challenge is the way in which all institutions are compared on the same metrics and in the same table. It is rather like having Partick Thistle and Real Madrid in the same league and expecting them to be equally competitive. Consider, for example, that the University of Edinburgh was founded in 1583, has 6,422 academic staff, 6,458 non-academic staff, endowments of £14.4m  in 2008-09 and total income of £592m (see the Facts and Figure 2016). QMU gained full university status in 2007 (having been first established in 1875 – almost 300 years later than UoE), has a total of 251 academic staff (including researchers) and total income of £38m in 2014-15 (which is actually about half of what Cambridge University received in endowments alone in the same year) (more Facts and Figures 2016). So in terms of headcount alone University of Edinburgh has 26 times the resources that we have at QMU and yet we are expected to compete against the same metrics. To extend the football analogy it’s like playing a team of 286 players against a standard team of 11 players. In this context it might seem that university league tables are truly absurd and best ignored.

Alternatively we could consider the extent to which any one university moves in the rankings year on year. Recently QMU went down on The Guardian league table from 76th to 101st place (see the full table here). But does that mean we have got so much worse over the last twelve months? Again rather than looking at the league table as a whole it might be helpful to compare our closest competitors: Edinburgh Napier (down from 64th to 70th), Glasgow Caledonian (down from 89th to 99th) and Abertay University (up from 93rd to 85th). What this shows is that institutions do tend to move quite a lot year on year. It would seem that very small changes in some of the metrics can result in a very large shift in the league table position. So again, league tables don’t say very much.

Of course, if universities were compared on a per capita basis some of the stats might appear very different. One might ask what on earth do larger, more established universities do with £1bn of expenditure a year or with 26 times the number of staff of smaller institutions. I would argue that QMU generates a lot of benefit with a very small percentage of the income that more established universities enjoy every year. Actually, I think that we are an excellent university. I know that we punch well above our weight and that our staff are incredibly committed to the student experience. I know that we have improved significantly over the seven years that I have worked there. I know there are still things that could improve – but I know that everyone is committed to making that improvement happen.

As just one example of our commitment to the student experience our our recent staff away day focused entirely on our undergraduate provision – and three students were invited to join us for part of the day to discuss their experience. I’ve never known that to happen at any other academic staff away day. And the one common thread across the entire day was how can we improve the student experience and the employability of our graduates. Everyone believes it and everyone is committed to it.

If you want a great experience as a student I can’t promise that you’ll get it at QMU – but what I can promise is that we’ll do everything we can to make it a great experience. What’s more, I know that if you don’t have a positive experience we will ask for your feedback, we will listen AND we will take action.

But here’s the thing; if a student has a negative experience at university, or perhaps doesn’t get the degree they wanted to get, who is ultimately to blame? I actually think it’s misleading to consider the success of a university as being solely down to the performance of the staff. Actually, much of our ‘success’ as measured by league tables, is not within our control. A university is as much a collection of students as it is a group of academics, academic-related and other professional and support services staff. In this sense the analogy with football is clearly completely preposterous – with football the success is down the players on the pitch; with universities the success is as much down to the fans on the stands (the students) as it is down to the players on the pitch. And while it may be easy for football clubs to buy new players during the transfer season what can a university do if the students do not engage in the learning activities in the way that they should? Of course we can encourage students and create learning activities that students want to engage with. But failing that all we can do is award those students lower grades – which then affects our league table position.

So please tell me, what can Partick Thistle do to compete with Real Madrid. And what can WE do to compete with Cambridge?

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Leading Change in Public Services – Abstracts

In advance of the research colloquium on Friday 13 May I thought I would share the abstracts from our speakers. Further information on the event can be found here:


Dr Rory Shand and Frank Carr, “Plus ca Reform: Rapid change and rapid decay in Public Sector Management“.

Dr Bobby Mackie, “Talent Management in Scotland’s Public Services: Implications for Leadership Development“.

Dr Ian C Elliott, Helen Dawson & Prof Paul Joyce, “Leading Change in Public Services Through Redesigning Public Governance Institutions: The Role of Leadership“.

Prof Paul Cairney, “The Scottish Approach to Policy Making and Implications for Public Service Delivery“.

Peter Murphy, “A progress report on proposals for greater collaboration between the blue light emergency services and the involvement of Police and Crime Commissioners in the governance of Fire and Rescue Services in England“.

Prof Jari Stenvall, Dr Tony Kinder, Dr Ilpo Laitinen, & Dr Päivikki Kuoppakangas, “Dilemmas and unlearning – the case of big data“.

Prof William Webster, Prof Douglas Robertson & Charles Leleux, “SmartGov’ Smart Governance of Sustainable Cities: Citizen Engagement, ICTs and Sustainable Urban Development in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Brazil“.

Dr David McGuire, “Sexual Orientation in the Public Sector: Issues of Inclusion and Identity in the Workplace“.

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Leading Change is Full of Nonsense

There is nothing constant except change

Be the change you want to see in the world

Take a look at yourself and make the change

So much of leading change is full of management-speak, lazy slogans and corporate bull$¬!£. As if an oxymoron is the most effective use of the English language to sum up an entire field of study.

This is why I was keen to have Steve Toft speak at our colloquium on Leading Change in Public Services. Steve writes the very influential blog FlipChartFairyTales which has as it’s strapline “Business Bullshit, Corporate Crap and other stuff from the World of Work”. I’m also delighted that Dave Watson, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland, will be speaking at our colloquium (his blog is here). Both are not shy when it comes to asking tough questions and both are adept in their use of evidence to support their analysis.

These two ‘industry-based’ speakers will be joined by a number of academic researchers who will be presenting their latest research on issues related to the topic of change in public services.

This critical academic debate is really needed. Sadly, I feel at times that analysis and evidence-based analysis are lacking when it comes to the subject of leading change. Just browse the titles of the many self-help management books that grace the shelves of every bland airport bookshop around the world. It would seem at times that there’s an entire industry of consultants and pracademics churning out clichés designed to inform ‘better’ management and self-actualisation. The titles could almost write themselves: 10 Easy Steps to Success; Think Positive; A Short Guide to Successful Change; How to Influence Change in 10 Seconds. If only it were that simple (NB: I made those titles up for illustrative purposes. Apologies to anyone who’s actually written a book with one of those titles).

The trouble is that organisational change requires people change. And people are complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered, cultural beings. So any organisational change will as a result also be complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered and cultural. Unless we recognise that we are likely to fail – is it any wonder that, according to John Kotter, more than 70% of change efforts fail?

Add to that mix the nature of public services (see here and here). What do I mean? Well, public services are often inherently complex and targeted at some of the most vulnerable groups in society. So there is a great risk, sometimes life-threatening, if things go wrong. Also, it’s public money so everyone has an opinion, everyone has a stake, and everyone is just waiting for something to go wrong. And of course Politicians also have an important role to play in our public services. Yet even in the more robust academic texts on leading change the distinctive nature of public service change tends to be overlooked.

It appears that anyone wanting to offer advice is best served by offering a simple model with an equally simplistic, yet catchy, acronym. This, it would seem, is what sells. Not complexity, not more questions, and certainly not theory (as we know academics don’t exist in the real world).

That’s not to say that there are excellent books out there on the subject of leading change in public services – there are actually quite a few (which I won’t list here for fear of forgetting someone). Equally the ‘generic’ organisational change texts are of course hugely valuable – to anyone. But I think there is still an important place for continued critical debate around leading change in public services. This is why I have organised this one day research colloquium:


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Coffee, lunch, education, networking, experience, trip to Brussels!

EU Referendum, elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, English local councils, London Mayor and London Assembly, police and crime commissioner elections. May 2016 is due to be a busy month for all of those with an interest in Politics, Policy and Public Administration. At a global level the development of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal’s and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change represent major challenges for all those working in public service contexts. All of this means that the next few weeks and months will undoubtedly involve a degree of change for our public services.

At QMU we are bringing together some of the top thinkers in public administration for a research colloquium on Friday 13 May 2016 in order to contribute to ongoing debates around the successful leadership of change in our public services. Attendance for delegates is FREE as this event has been kindly sponsored by the Joint University Council’s Public Administration Committee (of which we are an institutional member).

Spaces are limited so please book now to reserve your place:

Confirmed speakers include Prof Paul Cairney, University of Stirling, Scotland, Prof Paul Joyce, Universite Libre de Bruxelle, Belgium, and Prof Jari Stenvall, University of Tampere, Finland. As well as learning about the latest academic research delegates will benefit from some key insights into professional practice from Dave Watson, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland and Steve Toft, Director of Crucible and writer of Flip Chart Fairy Tales. A full draft agenda is available here.

Following this conference we will be publishing a short report and speakers will be invited to contribute to a special issue of a peer-reviewed academic journal.

This FREE event is just one example of the type of learning experience that can be expected by students on our new MPA programme. We always endeavor to build the research base of our teaching and engage with policy and practice. By doing so we can assure that our postgraduate programmes are context-driven and problem-focused.

Previously we have also been able to offer our students free places at other professional conferences. We also have a number of great guest speakers (though this does not include Donald Trump!).We are also able to offer free tuition through a number of scholarship schemes and tuition fee loans from SAAS. There are also SAAS living-cost loans up to £4,500 available to cover living expenses while studying. Other scholarship information is available here. We will also be offering free workplace learning opportunities to all students on the programme in association with ACOSVO. And, we are able to offer tuition fees at a reduced rate as this is a new programme.

As well as offering extensive support to our students we are also able to offer an excellent student experience. The following short video illustrates some of the benefits of being a QMU postgraduate student. We are also current planning excursions and fieldtrips for our new MPA students including a trip to the Scottish Parliament and to the EU Parliament in Brussels.

As well as all this we have recently validated a Professional Doctorate in Public Administration (DPA) whereby students from the MPA will have the opportunity to transfer over to the DPA after having completed six modules (and meeting other entry criteria). More on this later!

We are keeping student numbers on our new MPA low in order to be able to provide an excellent student experience so to reserve a place on the programme please apply now:

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ACOSVO Leadership Exchange

As part of our new MPA programme we have developed a partnership with the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO) to include a practical experience opportunity for our students. For some of our students this will involve participating in ACOSVO’s highly innovative Leadership Exchange programme.

In order to gain some first hand experience of this programme – and to develop my own professional practice – I took part in a leadership exchange over the last six months. The following is offered as a reflection on my participation.

I was paired with Andy Dey, Operations and Development Manager at ACOSVO. The purpose of our exchange was largely to explore the links between our two organisations and, for me, to get experience of the Leadership Exchange prior to it becoming a core part of our new MPA programme. This last point was important as I wanted to make sure I had a concrete understanding of the process before advising our new students. But equally the former purpose was necessary so that we could scope out together how our two very different organisations would work together in supporting students on the MPA.

The first thing to note about my particular exchange was that, as exchange partners, we could not be more different in our backgrounds and experience. Andy has experience at a senior level in the military (RAF/Air Commodore) and third sectors, including the running of multi-million pound, multinational organisations. I am an academic (albeit I do work in the real world!).

This difference was not a barrier to learning. In fact, I would argue that having people working together from different organisations and backgrounds is an enabler of learning. What is important for learning to take place is that both parties are open to the opportunity and are willing to challenge and question their own practices, values and beliefs. In doing so it’s important that both parties in the exchange respect the others’ perspective. I’m reminded of my favourite Rabbie Burns poem, To a Louse,

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

With any learning or development opportunity it’s important that those engaged in the process enter into it with the right mindset. If one party approaches any learning opportunity thinking ‘I know best’ then realistically there won’t be much learning!

So whilst the exchange partners may come from different backgrounds and experiences it is important that they share a common purpose. Thus the first stage in the ACOSVO leadership exchange process, filling out the application form, includes questions such as:

  • What are your areas of experience and knowledge which might be of interest for an exchange partner?
  • What topics would you like to explore during your exchange?
  • What would you like to gain from a Leadership Exchange

Within our MPA programme we are extending this by requiring students to complete a Tripartite Agreement between the university, their exchange partner and themselves. This will detail their anticipated learning outcomes from the exchange and the types of activities that they will be involved in to achieve these outcomes.

Within my exchange the key outcomes were clear and were shared between myself and my exchange partner so that the experience was a positive one. We met a number of times at both ACOSVO and at the university. I was able to sit in on an ACOSVO board meeting and Andy contributed to one of our Collaborations Operations Group (COG) meetings. As well as our meetings we had regular email communications. Again, communication is important for any learning experience to work – not to mention partnership working.

For our MPA students there will be a requirement that they attend four campus-based sessions about the workplace learning element of the programme. For those going through the leadership exchange there is a requirement that 24 hours of ‘contact time’ be used within the Leadership Exchange itself. This might equate to six half day (4 hour) sessions or three full day (8 hours) sessions. Again there needs to be this level of commitment and engagement in order to get the most out of it – particularly when benchmarked against Master’s level learning outcomes.

But what did I get out of it? A greater appreciation of the great work done within the Third Sector; positive affirmation that what we do as a university in terms of governance and quality assurance is of a very high standard; and contact with a hugely experienced Third Sector leader – who also happens to be a great guest speaker! But most of all I would say that my experience on the leadership exchange made me realise just how great the idea of leadership exchange is – and the case studies from others who have taken part testify to the value of this programme.

I would recommend the ACOSVO Leadership Exchange programme to anyone who genuinely wants to develop their professional practice. I’m delighted that at least one of my colleagues from the senior management team at QMU has embarked on a leadership exchange having heard about my experience – hopefully others will follow. Moreover I know that the MPA programme will be a terrific learning experience for all involved and I can’t wait to get started in September!

Applications for our new MPA, in partnership with ACOSVO, are now open. Click here to apply.



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Donald Trump confirmed as Visiting Professor on Edinburgh MPA programme

I’m delighted to be able to confirm Republican Presidential candidate and entrepreneur Donald Trump as Visiting Professor on our new MPA programme.




Donald is well known for both his intellectual thinking and his strong Scottish roots. He has recently been lauded by international organisations such as the UN and WHO on his use of the latest academic research to inform policy on key issues such as immigration, women’s rights and climate change. As such he’ll be a real asset to modules such as ‘Gender and Equality’ and ‘Social Justice and Critical Perspectives on the State’.

Applications for the MPA are now available here.

For more information see our course leaflet or this website.







** In case you hadn’t worked it out already, it’s April Fool’s Day! **

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