Why one size does not fit all: addressing the requirements of the public service leader

Stephen Jeffares

One of the key roles for Apprenticeship Week is to raise awareness of what is a relatively new form of qualification: the higher degree apprenticeship. For many years aspiring public service leaders have returned to university to study for a master’s degree. For many years this was generously funded by their organisation. However over the last decade successive austerity budgets have dramatically impacted on employer funded higher degrees. Here at INLOGOV we’ve seen the balance shift from employer to employee funded degrees. Public managers seeking that next challenge have resorted to self-funding. It has required managers to study in their spare time and take annual leave to attend campus sessions.

The arrival of master’s level degree apprenticeships offers a whole new model, a whole new opportunity. Public managers can now study for a postgraduate degree funded by their organisation’s “use it or lose it” apprenticeship levy pot. There’s a growing number of degree apprenticeships and university providers to choose from.

Of interest to aspiring senior leaders is the “Senior Leader” apprenticeship. Developed by public and private industry the standard describes the knowledge, skills and behaviours required of a senior leader. If you take a moment to read some of these 15 capabilities none will be out of place in the person specification for a chief executive of a large public organisation.

With more and more providers starting to offer degrees mapped to the new Senior Leader Apprenticeship it is important to recognise they are not all the same. Some are offered by large business schools, or traditional broad-spectrum research-intensive universities, or providers with a track record of working with mature students or innovative teaching methods.

Applicants we speak to are mostly concerned with the location of the university, the structure of the programme, and the reputation of the institution. However, another factor is the preference of the employer. Some are happy to work with a range of providers, while others want to keep it simple and work with one provider or to develop partnerships with their local universities.

As a provider of public management degrees for over 30 years, we at INLOGOV saw the development of a degree based on the Senior Leader standard as a natural transition. The Senior Leader standard set us the following challenge – how to create a programme that would equip our next generation of public service senior leaders. Whilst we recognise managerial reform has led to some blurring of public and private sector management, there are unique challenges facing public leaders that necessitates a tailored approach. Our research clearly demonstrates that effective leadership in the political environment of the public sector requires more than a generic set of management capabilities.

This challenge has led us to design and build a programme that connects the senior Leader standard with cutting edge public management research and real-world cases.

Our programme is based on three key design elements.

First is a set of six modules addressing critical public management issues, whilst also considering the required capabilities of the Senior Leader standard. Our programme addresses a broad range of important topics including public management, governance, leadership, evidence, digital, commercialisation, finance, strategy and performance (you can read more about our programme here).

Second is building the flexibility of blended learning to deliver much of the core content through a Virtual Learning Environment, thereby reducing the time spent passively learning in lecture theatres and allowing learners to fit their learning around their schedule.

Third is to retain a campus experience. Senior leaders need networks that extend beyond their own organisations or localities.

All this means participants can graduate with a dual award – both an MSc in Public Management and Leadership and a Senior Leader apprenticeship.

jeffares-stephenStephen Jeffares is Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at INLOGOV and co-Director of the Public Management and Leadership Degree Apprenticeship alongside Louise Reardon, Lecturer in Governance and Public Policy at INLOGOV.

If you are interested in joining a growing number of public agencies investing their levy in senior leadership please contact our Degree Apprenticeships Facilitator Kulvinder Buray (K.Buray@bham.ac.uk). We are currently recruiting for our September 2019 start.

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