Massey University is launching Australasia's first Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree focused on local government management. The new MPA programme is designed to broaden the skills of current managers and those moving into management roles in local government organisations.

Programme leader Dr Andy Asquith says there is a gap in the market for a postgraduate qualification focused on the local government sector.

"Working in the public sector is very different to working in a profit-driven corporation," he says. "It's also a political environment, which comes with a level of complexity that doesn't exist in the private sector. Managers in local government organisations also have specific challenges that are different to those of managers working in central government."

Dr Asquith says local government organisations directly employ approximately 30,000 people and manage $126 billion worth of assets.

"It's big business and we want good local government in this country to ensure communities are good places to live, work and play. This is the only postgraduate qualification where everything you learn will be relevant to those working in local government."

Sharing best practice

Dr Asquith hopes to attract a cohort of students from all around the country when the programme starts in February 2019. In order to accommodate a varied student base, the programme will be taught by distance or block courses.

"Sharing best practice with the wider cohort will be an important part of the programme," Dr Asquith says. "There will be students from many different local government organisations who will be able to share experiences and ideas, as well as support each other through the programme."

The degree will familiarise students with the theories underpinning the structure of public sector management, while providing the opportunity to apply these in practical, real-world contexts. Electives include papers focused on analytics and decision making and leading change in organisations.

"The capstone paper is an applied research project and we envision most students tacking an issue relevant to their workplace," Dr Asquith says. "It's a win-win situation as employers get innovative solutions to an existing problem, while the employee develops a new expertise relevant to their job."

Wide industry consultation

The Master of Public Administration has been developed after several years of consultation with the sector, including the Society of Local Government Managers, Local Government New Zealand and the Public Sector Association.

Dr Asquith hopes the qualification will increase management capability in the sector.

"We know there are plenty of people in senior management in local government without a degree," he says. "They typically start out in jobs for which they are technically competent, but if their career path takes them into management, the skillset they originally had often doesn't fit with their new role.

"The sector tells us there is a need that is not being catered for, given the scope and scale of local government and its contribution to New Zealand society. This degree is designed to fill that gap."