Master of public administration programme gives firemen a lift Taking the highly acclaimed master of public administration (MPA) programme at HKU has provided an invaluable opportunity for Tam Tai-keung and James Oet Pui-kuen to enhance their knowledge and competencies in public affairs management that will help to further advance their careers. Mr Tam and Mr Oet, who are colleagues in the Fire Services Department, completed the programme in 2003 and last year, respectively. It was no ordinary commitment but took a combination of dedication, determination and discipline by Mr Tam to enrol in the MPA course and to upgrade. He has been working in the disciplinary force for more than 20 years and is now divisional commander of the East Division of the Fire Services Department. He said studying the programme was an extremely valuable experience that had given him new knowledge about public administration. 'The MPA is quite demanding as we have to complete eight modules and one dissertation within two years. The study proved to be useful. I can apply what I have learnt about the theories and principles of public administration such as policy analysis and approaches to formulate policies to my job,' he said. 'The programme also serves as a good platform for students coming from different fields such as engineering, administration and non-governmental organisations to exchange views and share experiences. Together, we are able to study many real-life cases of government or public organisations' policies and examine their successes or failures.' Mr Tam's dissertation for the MPA looks into the recruitment of women firefighters in the Fire Services Department and examines why women are not so willing to join the disciplinary force. The department has a workforce of about 9,300, but there are only nine women firefighters. He said the ratio of women firefighters in many developed countries was much higher than Hong Kong, and his study sought to investigate the local phenomenon from different aspects - from recruitment requirements to the nature of firefighting. For Mr Oet, who is senior station officer of the Fire Services Department, the MPA study was an eye-opening experience. 'The programme has widened my horizons, and I will try to look into various things from a broader perspective now,' the 29-year-old firefighter said. In addition to upgrading his knowledge and academic achievements, he expected to see a positive effect on his career development. Mr Oet, who graduated with an actuarial science degree from HKU in 2000, said he was keen to do something meaningful for the public, and being a firefighter enabled him to serve the community. He has been in the Fire Services Department for about five years. Before that he was with the Immigration Department. One of the highlights of the MPA programme was the summer course with Tsinghua University whereby MPA students spent two weeks in Beijing. 'It provided a good opportunity for us to deepen exchanges and establish further relationships. We visited many government units and gained a better understanding of how public administration works in the mainland,' Mr Oet said. Another highlight was the presence of senior Hong Kong government officials and major organisations' executives who gave lectures and shared practical experiences with students in the classroom, he said. In his MPA dissertation, he examined the government's five-day week, its effect on operational efficiency and its impact on civil servants and their families. The MPA programme also created an opportunity for Mr Tam and Mr Oet to extend their personal networks. Mr Oet found that it was of great value to share experiences with classmates from other government departments and to learn about how they worked every day. Mr Tam said the relationships forged with other students would be long-lasting, and a strong personal network would facilitate closer ties and better co-operation with other government units. He said he encouraged his subordinates to take the MPA course because it would help foster a positive mindset and enhance self-development with better knowledge and skills, which would in turn improve personal performance and prepare students for high-level leadership roles. Mr Tam has been promoted twice since he completed the programme.