Public administration education in Europe

Date01 July 2015
Published date01 July 2015
AuthorGyorgy Hajnal
Subject MatterArticles
TPA538043 95..114
Teaching Public Administration
Public administration
2015, Vol. 33(2) 95–114
ª The Author(s) 2014
education in Europe:
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DOI: 10.1177/0144739414538043
Continuity or
Gyorgy Hajnal
Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
The article explores the changing patterns of disciplinary orientation in European public
administration (PA) education. The study builds on an earlier research, which defined
three distinct clusters of countries, based on their specific PA education tradition. It asks
whether countries’ movement away from the Legalist paradigm has continued since then
and if yes, what were the factors triggering the shift and towards which cluster: corporate
or public. The empirical basis of the article is a small-scale expert survey involving ten Eur-
opean countries. The key finding of the research is that since the early 2000s the geogra-
phical scope of Legalism in PA teaching has shrunk further with a number of formerly more
Legalist-based countries having moved towards at least one of the two alternative clusters.
These changes can be attributed to the demonstration effect of the international PA edu-
cation field and a shift in actual needs triggered by domestic reforms. However, some
countries in the response set – notably, Germany and Hungary – seem to remain largely
unaffected by these trends and continue on an overwhelmingly Legalist PA education path.
administrative tradition, comparative study, disciplinary reorientation, expert survey,
public administration education
Introduction: Disciplinary orientation and multi- and
interdisciplinarity in PA education
How future public administrators are educated is a question relevant from a number of
viewpoints. From a practical or policy perspective, public administration (PA) education
is a key determinant of the operation of public administrations and, in particular, of the
Corresponding author:
Gyorgy Hajnal, Corvinus University of Budapest, F}
ov´am te´r 8, Budapest, 1093, Hungary.

Teaching Public Administration 33(2)
feasibility of reformatory (or, for that matter, maintenance-oriented) intentions held by the
government of the day. This question also has a more theoretical relevance, though. How
public administration is conceived in the academia of different countries reveals much
about the general conception – in a sense, the culture – of public administration as a field of
societal practice. Throughout the 2000s, comparative research of PA education focused on
a number of different dimensions. These included the didactical approaches used
(Newswander and Newswander, 2012; Reichard, 2002), issues related to quality assurance
and accreditation (Geva-May and Maslove, 2007; Reichard, 2010) and – last but not least –
the disciplinary composition, orientation and identity of the field (Bauer, 2005; Bouckaert,
2008; Geva-May et al., 2006; Geva-May and Maslove, 2007; Hajnal, 2003; Kickert and
Stillman, 1999; Kickert, 2007a; Nemec et al., 2012; Reichard and R¨ober, 2009).
This article focuses on the last-mentioned aspect. It attempts to shed light on how PA,
as an academic discipline taught in degree programmes, is located in the multi-
dimensional space of related and relevant disciplines. The perspective taken is compara-
tive, as it encompasses different countries as well as the temporal changes that have
taken place within the observed countries. The ambition is predominantly descriptive,
but involves explanatory elements as well by looking at the different factors triggering
changes (if any) in the disciplinary identity of PA education.
On the western side of the Atlantic, there seems to be a fair extent of consensus that the
most important factor driving change – beside the internal dynamics of the related aca-
demic fields – is, on a global level, the proliferation of phenomena often broadly referred
to as governance. The increasing presence of horizontal, as opposed to vertical, links
between the government and other societal actors, the increased reliance on for-profit and
non-profit agents (most frequently as service providers), the increasingly globalised nature
of the field, and the increasing elements of participation (Denhardt, 2001; Ellwood, 2008;
Kettl, 2001; Newswander and Newswander, 2012; and Olewu, 2002) all pose important
challenges to the traditional ways of teaching PA. As a result, the established genres of
PA programmes in the broad sense – classical public administration, public policy/policy
analysis, and public management programmes – continue to exist, while their curricula
continue to converge (though to a limited extent only; see Ellwood, 2008).
On the European side of the Atlantic, in addition to the above factors, certain additional
factors of change are observed, too.
Probably the single most important additional factor is the dynamic between two
closely interrelated phenomena, resulting in the historically rooted national distinc-
tiveness of PA education (Kickert, 2007b). On the one hand, this is oftentimes reinforced
by institutional and cultural inertia (Reichard and R¨ober, 2009; Hajnal and Jenei, 2007,
2008); and on the other hand, by increasing Europeanisation largely triggered by the
Bologna process and the formerly more entrenched national fields opening up as a result
(Bouckaert, 2008; Geva-May and Maslove, 2007; Verheijen and Connaughton, 2003).
Authors focusing on one or a few countries/regions occasionally highlight additional,
more idiosyncratic factors, too. For example, Reichard and R¨ober (2009) note German
citizens’ preference for publicly provided services, as opposed to those that are priva-
tised and contracted out, which stands in clear opposition to global trends and pressures
towards third-party service provision. Moreover, the formal legally defined norms, as

well as the more informal values-in-use that guide recruitment into the civil service, play
down interdisciplinary PA graduates in favour of those with the traditionally entrenched,
predominantly legal training. A similar factor was identified by Nemec et al. (2012) in
the context of three central and eastern European countries: the Czech Republic, Poland
and Slovakia. A third example of such regional-scope explanations may be the one
advanced by Bauer (2005). Bauer hypothesises, among others, that the disciplinary
orientation of central and eastern European countries’ PA education may be explained
by the extent to which these countries’ PA education systems were open or closed during
the Communist era (Bauer, 2005: 63).
The current study focuses on the above issues – that is, on the changes that have taken
place in terms of PA programmes’ disciplinary identity in Europe throughout the 2000s,
as well as the driving forces underlying those changes – in the light of some additional
data. In order to fully understand this endeavour, a brief description of the present
research’s antecedents is necessary.
The antecedent of the current research
The EU/Socrates Funded Thematic Network for Public Administration undertook a
detailed survey of European university degree programmes in the field of public
administration (Verheijen and Connaughton, 1999; Verheijen and Nemec, 2000). Sub-
sequently, a quantitative statistical analysis of PA curricula taught in (almost) all par-
ticipating countries was undertaken (Hajnal, 2003). The focus of this research was
mostly on the disciplinary composition of PA programmes – that is, on the extent to
which programme curricula include subjects in law, management, political science/
public policy, and so on. The central questions of this research were twofold:
whether there are characteristic differences between countries in terms of the dis-
ciplinary orientation/composition of their PA curricula, and if yes,
can these countries be grouped into distinct, characteristic clusters?
Answering these questions, in the final analysis, was thought to say something about
the prevailing administrative culture(s) to be found in Europe.
The statistical analysis performed on curricular data revealed that the 23 European
countries included in the data set could be grouped into three distinguishable clusters –
the corporate, the multidisciplinary and the legal (see Table 1).
The three clusters coincide with the three basic, traditional approaches to PA found in
The legal cluster included Greece, Hungary, Italy, Moldova, Poland, Portugal,
Romania and Yugoslavia. The legalistic administrative culture views public
administration as a well-running machine executing detailed legal regulations.
The public cluster included Belgium, France, Spain and Sweden. The specialty of
this approach seems to be its emphasis on the uniquely political, public character
of its subject, strongly relying on concepts and approaches of political sciences
and policy sciences/public policy. This historically newer paradigm gradually

Teaching Public Administration 33(2)
Table 1.
The three clusters of European Countries based on the disciplinary composition of
their public administration Programmes (significant values highlighted).
Mean for
cluster (% of disciplines in PA programme curricula)
all countries
Political science
Source. Hajnal (2003: 250). Only the three most significant disciplinary categories are displayed.
Note. PA ¼ public...

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