Master of Public Administration
Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences
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.
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.
There is also an opportunity to study at one of our partner universities in the European Master of Public Administration 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.
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:
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 near the start date and may be subject to 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 of attendance will often 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 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 Masters 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 via one method or a combination e.g. examination and coursework . 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 four learning outcomes, and no more than two 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.
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 Masters 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 Masters degrees of more than 200 credit points the final 120 points usually determine the overall grading.
Figures correct for academic year 2019-2020.
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 (20%) or Lecturers (55%).
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) by Advanced HE - 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 2021-2022.
The Belfast campus is situated in the artistic and cultural centre of the city, the Cathedral Quarter.
High quality apartment living in Belfast city centre adjacent to the university campus.
At Student Wellbeing we provide many services to help students through their time at Ulster University.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
This module is optional
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.
This module is optional
This module introduces public policy co-design, and it focuses on the concept of policy instruments. It also explains what is meant by evaluation in relation to public services. Examines the basis for evidence-based policy. It develops a critical awareness of the varying quality of evaluation studies. It gives students the skills needed to design and commission evaluations of public policy programmes.
This module is optional
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 is optional
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.
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 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.
In this section
Our graduates are already immersed in their professional lives but this qualification should enhance the prospects for further career progression.
Visit Tuition Fees 2022/23 for more details on the price of this course.
It is important to remember that costs associated with accommodation, travel (including car parking charges) and normal living will need to be covered in addition to tuition fees.
Where a course has additional mandatory expenses (in addition to tuition fees) we make every effort to highlight them above. 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 Wi-Fi are also available on each of the campuses.
There are additional fees for graduation ceremonies, examination resits and library fines.
Students choosing a period of paid work placement or study abroad as a part of their course should be aware that there may be additional travel and living costs, as well as tuition fees.
See the tuition fees on our student guide for most up to date costs.
We know that choosing to study at university is a big decision, and you may not always be able to find the information you need online.
Please contact Ulster University with any queries or questions you might have about:
For any queries regarding getting help with your application, please select Admissions in the drop down below.
For queries related to course content, including modules and placements, please select Course specific information.
We look forward to hearing from you.
“Effective policy making has made and continues to make a real difference to the people of Northern Ireland. The collaboration between Northern Ireland Civil Service and Ulster University in delivering The Postgraduate Certificate has been very successful. Specifically it provides current and future policy makers with the necessary skills to fulfil their role, inspiring them to get involved in seeking out new, innovative approaches to support positive future outcomes.”
Course Participant, DAERA
“The combination of academic theory and practical skills, along with the ability to take some time away from the office, provides a unique opportunity to take a step back in order to test theories and inform practice. The interactive nature of the course and the chance to hear from senior civil servants provides a valuable insight into the realities and challenges of policy development. The course is challenging but the benefits reach far beyond the classroom.”
Course Participant, DoJ
“…the content provided by lecturers and external speakers, as well as the in-class discussions, helped me develop a better understanding of the machinations of government and the policy-making process. The assignments also encouraged us to consider a variety of theoretical models and procedures, and it was interesting to learn how this knowledge could be applied in future.”
Course Participant, DfC
“Participating in the Post Graduate Certificate in Public Administration provided a unique opportunity to put a structured framework around policy and test practice against theory. The theory, whilst heavy going at times, was brought to life through robust and lively class discussions and the assignments gave us a chance to explore the dynamics of policy-making in a way you would not have the opportunity to do in work. Fitting in the reading and meeting deadlines was tough but having access to experts in the field, both academic and practitioner, made it more than worthwhile. I thoroughly enjoyed all four modules and would recommend this course to anyone interested in policy-making.”
Course Participant, DoJ
“Whilst the PGC is, at times, daunting, it is a wholly enjoyable experience. The course requires time and dedication, but the quality of teaching and the wide range of guest speakers and their applied learning ensures that you are engaged throughout. I would highly recommend the PGC course, particularly for those involved in policy design and implementation.”
Course Participant, DfC
“….I found the course extremely interesting and worthwhile. The mixture of lectures grounded in academic theory and supplemented by the experiences of senior officials brings a very interesting and insightful dimension to the course. Whilst I found keeping on top of the reading challenging at times, I have gained a comprehensive knowledge of academic policy theories along with a greater general awareness of how government works and the challenges faced in policy making, all of which will benefit my day-to-day work.”
Course Participant, DfI (NISRA)