Towards good governance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 January, 2005, 12:00am

Institution tackles complex issues facing the public sector

SOCIETY HAS NO shortage of dilemmas, and right now one of the most complex begins with improving the governance of Hong Kong, according to Mark Hayllar, associate professor and programme leader of the Master of Arts in Public Policy and Management in the City University of Hong Kong's department of public and social administration.

Collective issues falling under the government's umbrella include constitutional reform, civil service reform, economic restructuring, building up working partnerships between the public and private sectors, strengthening the ability of health and social services to deal with the ever increasing demands and needs of a rapidly ageing population and developing relationships with the mainland, the region and the world.

Such issues present an enormous challenge to those working in the public sector, and there is a growing need for trained, competent professionals who are politically aware and administratively skilled.

Those wanting to advance in public life need multiple skills, including the ability to critically analyse what is happening in their fields, apply knowledge and skills to plan and implement decisions effectively and be accountable for them, and to help generate a better working relationship and sense of partnership between the government and society.

Dr Hayllar believes the degree makes a significant contribution towards meeting those needs.

Students come from a wide range of organisations, but mostly the public sector. They include workers from the government services, welfare workers and university staff.

The present intake also includes 15 students from the private sector, allowing for the sharing of ideas and experiences across both sectors.

The first year provides a theoretical framework for the academic study of key issues. Courses cover theories of government and public administration, values and choice in public and social policy and managing organisations and people.

The second year sees students study more specialised courses such as international public management.

Dr Hayllar said the most distinguishing feature of the programme was its residential element. Students recently spent a weekend in Macau, where they took part in panel discussions with senior government officials and academics to discuss and compare critical issues in Macau's political and administrative development with those in Hong Kong.

Macau's tourism industry was also studied, with students presenting their findings to a panel of government officials and local academics.

Previous residentials have included trips to Singapore and the mainland, where students discussed issues such as the Kyoto agreement on the environment and China joining the World Trade Organisation.

As well as providing a forum for discussing issues with senior practitioners in the visited country, Dr Hayllar said, residentials were designed to provide opportunities for integrating knowledge, skills and materials from across the programme.

'Through a wide range of teamwork, role playing and extended exercises, the residential provides an excellent opportunity for students to gain real understanding from their experiments, testing out new ideas, knowledge, theories and skills on complex policy, management, communication and resource problems,' he said.

Students take part in specially designed exercises, often using genuine materials from the government.

One of the exercises includes an extended role play that lasts for a night and a day. Students are divided into teams that play out the need for the government to make a decision on the location of an Aids clinic. Once a decision has been made, it must be announced at a press conference.

'The role play is very dynamic as we have not only the government team but also two teams of very vocal local residents, a professionals team, a patients team and then three media teams,' Dr Hayllar said.

Two of the media teams play rival TV stations who must interview the relevant parties and produce a 10-minute news show.

'The two TV stations have different editorial policies, showing the students not only how difficult it is to be on the other side of the government-media relationship but also how different editorial policies can result in very different interpretations of news items,' Dr Hayllar said. 'For many students who have not yet had experience in handling public disputes or the media, this exercise proves really valuable.'

The degree is a two-year, part-time programme. Tuition fees are $2,100 per credit and the number of credits needed are 30. The cost of the residential is excluded.