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Your fellow students and course flexibility

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Tom Burton: Who would be the typical sort of person who would be attracted to this program? Where do you think your sweet spot is in terms of the sort of candidates who should be thinking about this type of arrangement?

Janine O’Flynn: One of the things to say from the start is that none of them are typical; they come from an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds. But there’s two things that we see in our classroom, but also that we’re looking for in people to join the program.

So we think about a group of our participants in that program as being career switchers. They’ve already developed expertise, they’re well-advanced in their careers, but they’re looking to make a change. Perhaps they’re moving into leadership roles, they’re experts in their jobs already, but they’re stepping up. And others are switching modes in a different way, so they might be moving between the public and non-profit sector, perhaps they’ve been working in the private and they’re coming into public. And this reflects this much more agile career that people will have. But for us, they’re the ones that are attracted, and they’re the ones that we’re seeing in the classroom. And part of that is essentially saying, well, what can you give me in an MPA that I can’t get in, say, an MBA?

For us, it’s all about context, so if we go back to the discussion we had before about strategy… well, strategy in itself is a complex sort of beast, but it looks different in all those sectors, and we teach strategy in a way that gives them an appreciation of all of those. So, organising, understanding the political environment gives you a very different flavour, and that’s what I think we’re giving to those people.

Tom Burton: So it’s about effective leadership within that context of the public sphere, and the type of people coming to you are people that have got an urge to grab that piece and run with it, and instinctively appreciate some of this complexity and uncertainty, and want to be able to frame themselves, skill themselves in that space.

Janine O’Flynn: Absolutely, and the thing is that these are people who already have great careers. They’ve already got plenty of experience. And part of what they want to do in that program is make sense of that, wrap some understanding around it. They appreciate the complexity, they deal with it all of the time. They understand all of those challenges. They might not have the language that we have in the university, but between us, we’re in this very collaborative learning space.

The other thing is, I get to learn a lot about what’s going on, and as a person who studies public management up close and personal, there’s nothing like sitting around the table with a group of people who are doing it. Whether they’re sitting in the private sector as providers, whether they’re sitting in the non-profit sector trying to influence what it is that government does. When you’ve got a group of people like that around the table, I tell you, it’s a great way to teach.

Tom Burton: So, many of these people are very busy. Do they know to quit their job, or is it something they can engage with in a much more flexible way?

Janine O’Flynn: For us, there’s lots of different ways to combine work, life, and also study. And one of the things we did in designing this was really look at, well, who are the participants that are going to come to us, and how can we rethink the way that we even deliver in programs like this? So, I don’t know if I can claim that we’re the most flexible, but I’d say we’re pretty close to that in MPAs around the world.

Tom Burton: And in practice, what does that look like?

Janine O’Flynn: We deliver most of our subjects in intensive mode. That means coming in for a three-day intensive with some of our colleagues to do ethics, three days sitting in the classroom with a bunch of experts talking about how do we understand evidence. We can do a five-day boot camp with me, and we offer our students great combinations of being able to combine full-time work and full-time study. That requires stamina, but I can tell you that some of our students are doing that and excelling, and they’re managing to combine the demands of full-time work as well as full-time study. And others are moving in and out. We can adapt to the program as their work and life changes. So we’ve had some of our participants already switching jobs and careers, but we’ve been able to reconfigure our program around them.

Author Bio

The Mandarin

The Mandarin staff journalists.