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Why the world needs a new generation of better public managers

By Linda M

Updated May 13, 2021 Updated May 13, 2021

Sponsored by The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)

In recent years, professionals from a wide range of sectors – including government, education and business – have had to deal with some of the world’s most complex challenges, such as political protests, environmental disasters and climate change, pandemics and public health crises. Faced with this uncertainty, societies across the world are in desperate need of stability and sustainability.

Public managers play a key role in this. By improving the services and performance of public organisations, they ensure that the most crucial functions of society benefit all citizens and improve their daily lives.

But how exactly do public managers operate, and why does the world need them more than before?

Global crises require public managers with greater policy capacity

The past two decades have been characterised by some of the biggest shifts ever seen in society. From rapid technological advances and middle class anxieties to the depletion of environmental ecosystems and the instability of electoral politics, these challenges have required public managers and leaders who are equipped not only with managerial skills but also with analytical abilities and political acumen.

Throughout 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the importance of governments demonstrating greater policy capacity, whether at analytical, operational or political levels.

Across the world, demands for more capable, trusted public institutions are likely to grow. In 2021 for example, vaccination rollouts and the use of technologies to contain the spread of the virus will demonstrate how good public managers are critical in ensuring the transition back to a sense of ‘normality’.

Because of the volatility of our highly connected globalised economies, public managers of tomorrow must be prepared to operate in a rapidly changing and disruptive world. Degrees such as the new Master of Public Management (MPM) at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) are crucial in helping aspiring public managers develop the right skillsets and mindsets to thrive in complex and uncertain times.

Unlike traditional programmes in public administration, the MPM focuses on helping students gain knowledge and capabilities that are highly transferable across industries, sectors and policy domains, with its core courses such as Managing the Policy Process and Public Management for Technology Innovation.

What’s more, MPM students at HKUST have the opportunity to take electives in other departments or schools so that they can integrate perspectives from other disciplines such as economics, psychology and data analytics. This is extremely important as our interconnected society is set to inevitably face a range of policy challenges – which require a globally oriented, inter-disciplinary approach.

Technology innovation and sustainability at the forefront

While the coronavirus pandemic has dominated political discourse in 2020, sustainability has become the most pressing and urgent issue for future generations. Public managers of tomorrow must also be able to take full advantage of the technology innovations enabled by the digital revolution to help societies overcome sustainability challenges.

For this reason, HKUST’s MPM programme has incorporated core courses and electives that combine the university’s strengths in science and technology with the knowledge necessary to lead and implement technology innovation and sustainability initiatives.

For instance, students are required to take a core course on Public Management for Technology Innovation and Managing for Sustainability. They also have the opportunity to choose from several electives related to technology innovation and sustainability, such as Technology Disruptions and Public Policy, Technology and Innovation policy, Environmental Policy and Natural Resource Management, Innovation and Sustainability, and Environmental Economics.

What’s more, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area which is right on the doorstep of HKUST, offers a live case study of smart cities, innovation and sustainability in this part of Asia.

A pathway for public managers to advance the public interest

Professor Kira Matus, associate head of HKUST’s Division of Public Policy with students

Image: Professor Kira Matus, associate Head of HKUST's Division of Public Policy with students. Image credit: Division of Public Policy (PPOL), The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

A career in public management might seem like an ideal choice for those already serving in governments or those who have to deal with regulatory issues and government affairs. But the Master of Public Management at HKUST is also open to any applicant who is interested in public service and is eager to contribute to the public interest, whether on a local or global scale.

The programme welcomes students from a wide range of industries – such as finance, business services, health, transport, energy, and the non-profit world – underlining the importance of having public managers from various policy domains adds to the diversity of the classroom.

As Professor Kira Matus, associate head of HKUST’s Division of Public Policy, said: “Some may have a good understanding of the political dimension, but not the analytical methods required for policy design – or vice versa.

“There is also the element of complexity: a lot of the problems now dealt with by the public sector, such as air quality, water management or smart city planning, are international. So, as you move up in an organisation, you will need the ability to manage complexity and collaborate with a variety of stakeholders. That is the future of work in or with the public sector.”

She added: “The issues we will cover have implications and downstream impacts for all kinds of industry players and NGOs. The outcome for students will be the ability to do their jobs better.”


If we've got you interested in the Master of Public Management at HKUST, there is an upcoming online information session on 17 March 2021 where you can find out more about it. 

Lead image credit: Division of Public Policy (PPOL), The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

This article was originally published in February 2021 . It was last updated in May 2021

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