Further your career in public sector management, guided by leading academics and practitioners.
The Master of Public Administration (MPA) at Ulster is the ideal programme for anyone working in a managerial or governance role in the public, voluntary or community sectors, who is keen to reach the next step in their career.
Designed to improve quality across the public services, this innovative course will enhance your leadership skills and effectiveness, ensuring you stand out in a competitive labour market.
Internationally-recognised, high quality research shapes our teaching. Throughout the programme, you will benefit from the extensive expertise of the academic team, as well as significant input from leading practitioners from across the civil service and public services.
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About this course
In this section
Whether you want to further your learning or advance your career, the MPA is a flexible programme designed to work with your life.
Normally completed over two years, the course comprises nine modules and a project, delivered on a block-release basis. You also have the option to exit after four or eight modules with a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma in Public Administration.
Students come from a variety of roles and organisations across the public, voluntary and community sectors. This diversity adds to the learning experience. You will study alongside like-minded professionals and gain an invaluable insight into different organisations, while also developing your network.
Modules cover a broad range of topics relevant to public sector management and governance, and will help you hone your leadership and management skills.
You will develop a critical awareness and understanding of policy, management and organisations and explore the impact of various forces on organisations including political uncertainty, economic constraints, demands for greater efficiency and effectiveness and an increasing focus on outcome
You will also learn how to analyse and evaluate key public policies that impact on your organisation.
Career opportunities are excellent and graduates of the MPA currently work across a wide range of organisations in health, housing, education, local government, government agencies, civil services departments, police, non-departmental public bodies and many voluntary and community sector organisations.
Modules are taught over four day blocks spread over the academic year.
- September 2019
Teaching, Learning and Assessment
The content for each course is summarised on the relevant course page, along with an overview of the modules that make up the course.
Each course is approved by the University and meets the expectations of:
- the relevant generic national Qualification Descriptor
- the applicable Subject Benchmark Statement
- the requirements of any professional, regulatory, statutory and accrediting bodies.
Attendance and Independent Study
As part of your course induction, you will be provided with details of the organisation and management of the course, including attendance and assessment requirements - usually in the form of a timetable. For full-time courses, the precise timetable for each semester is not confirmed until close to the start date and may be subject to some change in the early weeks as all courses settle into their planned patterns. For part-time courses which require attendance on particular days and times, an expectation of the days and periods of attendance will be included in the letter of offer. A course handbook is also made available.
Courses comprise modules for which the notional effort involved is indicated by its credit rating. Each credit point represents 10 hours of student effort. Undergraduate courses typically contain 10- or 20-credit modules (more usually 20) and postgraduate course typically 15- or 30-credit modules.
The normal study load expectation for an undergraduate full-time course of study in the standard academic year is 120 credit points. This amounts to around 36-42 hours of expected teaching and learning per week, inclusive of attendance requirements for lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical work, fieldwork or other scheduled classes, private study, and assessment. Part-time study load is the same as full-time pro-rata, with each credit point representing 10 hours of student effort.
Postgraduate Master’s courses typically comprise 180 credits, taken in three semesters when studied full-time. A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) comprises 60 credits and can usually be completed on a part-time basis in one year. A 120-credit Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) can usually be completed on a part-time basis in two years.
Class contact times vary by course and type of module. Typically, for a module predominantly delivered through lectures you can expect at least 3 contact hours per week (lectures/seminars/tutorials). Laboratory classes often require a greater intensity of attendance in blocks. Some modules may combine lecture and laboratory. The precise model will depend on the course you apply for and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. Prospective students will be consulted about any significant changes.
Assessment methods vary and are defined explicitly in each module. Assessment can be a combination of examination and coursework but may also be only one of these methods. Assessment is designed to assess your achievement of the module’s stated learning outcomes. You can expect to receive timely feedback on all coursework assessment. The precise assessment will depend on the module and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Coursework can take many forms, for example: essay, report, seminar paper, test, presentation, dissertation, design, artefacts, portfolio, journal, group work. The precise form and combination of assessment will depend on the course you apply for and the module. Details will be made available in advance through induction, the course handbook, the module specification and the assessment timetable. The details are subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Normally, a module will have 4 learning outcomes, and no more than 2 items of assessment. An item of assessment can comprise more than one task. The notional workload and the equivalence across types of assessment is standardised.
Calculation of the Final Award
The class of Honours awarded in Bachelor’s degrees is usually determined by calculation of an aggregate mark based on performance across the modules at Levels 5 and 6, (which correspond to the second and third year of full-time attendance).
Level 6 modules contribute 70% of the aggregate mark and Level 5 contributes 30% to the calculation of the class of the award. Classification of integrated Master’s degrees with Honours include a Level 7 component. The calculation in this case is: 50% Level 7, 30% Level 6, 20% Level 5. At least half the Level 5 modules must be studied at the University for Level 5 to be included in the calculation of the class.
All other qualifications have an overall grade determined by results in modules from the final level of study. In Master’s degrees of more than 200 credit points the final 120 points usually determine the overall grading.
The University employs over 1,000 suitably qualified and experienced academic staff - 59% have PhDs in their subject field and many have professional body recognition.
Courses are taught by staff who are Professors (25%), Readers, Senior Lecturers (18%) or Lecturers (57%).
We require most academic staff to be qualified to teach in higher education: 82% hold either Postgraduate Certificates in Higher Education Practice or higher. Most academic staff (81%) are accredited fellows of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) - the university sector professional body for teaching and learning. Many academic and technical staff hold other professional body designations related to their subject or scholarly practice.
The profiles of many academic staff can be found on the University’s departmental websites and give a detailed insight into the range of staffing and expertise. The precise staffing for a course will depend on the department(s) involved and the availability and management of staff. This is subject to change annually and is confirmed in the timetable issued at the start of the course.
Occasionally, teaching may be supplemented by suitably qualified part-time staff (usually qualified researchers) and specialist guest lecturers. In these cases, all staff are inducted, mostly through our staff development programme ‘First Steps to Teaching’. In some cases, usually for provision in one of our out-centres, Recognised University Teachers are involved, supported by the University in suitable professional development for teaching.
Figures correct for academic year 2019-2020.
Here is a guide to the subjects studied on this course.
Courses are continually reviewed to take advantage of new teaching approaches and developments in research, industry and the professions. Please be aware that modules may change for your year of entry. The exact modules available and their order may vary depending on course updates, staff availability, timetabling and student demand. Please contact the course team for the most up to date module list.
In this section
Public Administration and Governance
This module is designed to examine the activities of public servants and structures of government within a changing administrative landscape which has witnessed the decline in the traditional forms of bureaucracy and seen the emergence of a differentiated polity influenced by developments in the private sector. The relevance of traditional principles of public administration - public accountability, equity and legality, are being challenged by the adoption of management tools and techniques described broadly as Public Management. This module considers the impact of modernisation within and across the various tiers of government.
The Research Methods module has a direct link to the students' preparation for their Master's research project. The module considers the key research strategies and designs in the field pf public administration and then examines various quantitative and qualitative research methods. Central to the module is practical skills acquisition using data analysis software packages to interrogate primary data sets in the public administration. The module concludes with an examination of ethical issues which must be considered in advance of embarking on primary research in the project.
Contemporary Issues in Public Policy
This module provides the mechanism to draw together theoretical materials studied during the Postgraduate Certificate stage of the programme and apply these to real-world issues. Hence, topical issues such as: Delivering Social Change; reforms in primary and post-primary education; the implementation of the Review of Public Administration; local government reorganisation; and, community planning, will provide opportunities for a discussion of contemporary issues facing the public sector in Northern Ireland and beyond. Given the composition of the student body (public sector officials), the module offers an opportunity for them to link theory and practice.
Delivering Services with NGOs
This module is focused on the field of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and will examine the relationship between public bodies and the NGO sector and the potential for improved public services as a result of contracting out services to organisations within the sector. Are NGOs a better source of welfare services than the public or the private sector' Can NGOs be trusted to deliver key welfare services' Do they add value in terms of quality of services delivered' These are examples of questions which the module will address.
Explains what is meant by evaluation in relation to public services. Examines the basis for evidence based policy. Develops a critical awareness of the varying quality of evaluation studies. Gives students the skills needed to design and commission evaluations of public policy programmes.
Policy analysis is concerned with how issues and problems come to be defined and constructed and how they are placed on the political and policy agenda of governments. But it is also the study of how, why and to what effect governments pursue particular courses of action and inaction or "what governments do, why they do it, and what difference it makes". It is an approach to public policy that aims to integrate and contextualise models and research from various disciplines.
This module examines the major issue of strategically managing and leading the organisation in a changing environment. It develops generic issues in strategic management and provides the opportunity for critical appraisal of a range of theories on strategic management and leadership and to apply these theories to real life organisations in the public sector. Assessment is through a number of pieces of course work.
Issues in Health & Social Care
Teaches students to examine key factors impacting on the delivery of health services. The significance of demographic, technological and social trends. Health services finance and resource management issues. The structure of health and social services in Northern Ireland. Managing doctors and other professionals. Performance management. Using evidence for policy and management. Innovation in health services. The future of regulation and competition.
This module has a pre-requisite of the Research Methods module. The project module aims to give course members an opportunity to apply the concepts, methods and techniques that have been studied in the taught elements of the course to a real-world situation in their own environment. A specific organisational problem is identified, analysed and an action plan for implementation developed.
Applied Government: From Policy to Delivery
The module will demonstrate, through real world case studies, how to achieve good government in `messy' situations where authority is shared across individuals and organisations and where the context, mandate or original policy aims of an issue change over time. It will describe large scale challenges from the perspective of Ministers, public servants and other stakeholders. It will demonstrate how `coalitions of the willing' are established in these situations and how various tools of government can be brought to bear at different points to achieve real progress and deliver results on the ground.
We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.
In this section
Normally a UK second class honours degree, or better, in any discipline or the equivalent of this for international students. Additionally, applicants should normally have gained at least 3 years’ relevant work experience in a supervisory or managerial position.
English Language Requirements
English language requirements for international applicants
The minimum requirement for this course is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. Trinity ISE: Pass at level III also meets this requirement for Tier 4 visa purposes.
Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.
Careers & opportunities
In this section
Our graduates are already immersed in their professional lives but this qualification should enhance the prospects for further career progression.
Fees and funding
In this section
Fees (total cost)
Important notice - fees information
Fees illustrated are based on 19/20 entry and are subject to an annual increase. Correct at the time of publishing. Terms and conditions apply. Additional mandatory costs are highlighted where they are known in advance. There are other costs associated with university study.
Visit our Fees pages for full details of fees
- Northern Ireland & EU:
Additional mandatory costs
Tuition fees and costs associated with accommodation, travel (including car parking charges), and normal living are a part of university life.
Where a course has additional mandatory expenses we make every effort to highlight them. These may include residential visits, field trips, materials (e.g. art, design, engineering) inoculations, security checks, computer equipment, uniforms, professional memberships etc.
We aim to provide students with the learning materials needed to support their studies. Our libraries are a valuable resource with an extensive collection of books and journals as well as first-class facilities and IT equipment. Computer suites and free wifi is also available on each of the campuses.
There will be some additional costs to being a student which cannot be itemised and these will be different for each student. You may choose to purchase your own textbooks and course materials or prefer your own computer and software. Printing and binding may also be required. There are additional fees for graduation ceremonies, examination resits and library fines. Additional costs vary from course to course.
Students choosing a period of paid work placement or study abroad as part of their course should be aware that there may be additional travel and living costs as well as tuition fees.
Please contact the course team for more information.
Course Director: Dr Karl O'Connor
Admissions Contact: Kerry Moran
For more information visit
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This was a fascinating and intellectually stimulating course, which provided an excellent insight into both the theory and practice of public service. I benefitted significantly from access to the experience and expertise of lecturers and particularly the wide array of guest speakers. My ability to perform my job effectively has been enhanced by the knowledge and skills gained from my studies and I have also significantly increased my understanding of how, and why, wider government works as it does.
Patrick Savage, course participant, DARD.
The content of the course really resonated with me as an experienced policy lead in the NICS. It led me to think about why we do things and how, and indeed how we could do them better. The taught academic material was both interesting and thought provoking, and the lecturers were excellent and very accessible. We also had the benefit of hearing about the experiences of some really fantastic senior staff who participated in the course as visiting speakers from different spheres of the public sector, who willingly shared their knowledge and experience, warts and all, with us. I would highly recommend this course to colleagues.
Course participant, Grade 7, DHSSPS