How can public administration education meet the changing demands of the working environment and promote lifelong learning? A case study in Finland

Niina Mäntylä
University of Vaasa

Jari Autioniemi
University of Vaasa

Jonna Kosonen
University of Eastern Finland

Hanna Partinen
University of Eastern Finland

Abstract


The first aim of this paper is 1) to clarify what are the main developing demands in working life regarding public administration and what kind of skills we should teach in the future. The second objective is 2) to establish how the higher education provider could be better informed about these trends and how to develop exchange of information between working life and actors in higher education.
Alongside the theoretical approach, the results will be based on empirical findings produced by workshops and expert panels, as well as a case study concerning a new Finnish modular study program that is based on online teaching in the field of public administration and law.
In Finland, the report of the Working Group of the Ministry of Education and Culture on the Development of Lifelong Learning (2018) draws attention to the changing needs of the labor market and the openness of education. At the heart of the development of teaching is the focus on the changing demands of the working environment. The Ministry of Education and Culture proposes that the visibility and importance of lifelong learning should be strengthened in university strategies: in addition, the aim is to develop digital learning areas in higher education cooperation (Ministry of Education and Culture 2018, 29).
The leaders and officials in the public sector are working with ongoing reforms, political pressures and in a more international and complex environment. More cross-sectoral solutions and a strong collaborative culture are needed in the future. It is also clear the growing number of challenges in the public sector can be seen as phenomenon-based (Sitra 2018). Teaching public administration has changed drastically over a few decades. Nowadays public administration teaching is concerned about skill and competence than ever before. For example, public managers are expected to behave in an innovative manner rather than just following bureaucratic practices (Larat 2017). However, it should be noted that competence based public administration raises problems in Human Resource Management (HRM), performance assessment and perceptions of organizational fairness (Demmke 2019). According to Denhardt (2001), teaching public administration raises questions such as: Why do teach? Are we educating students for their first job or for their whole working life? How can we create digital courses that offer more than just reading books? Should education focus on theory or practice?
Also digitalization plays a key role when it comes to public sector change, with some researchers even talking about e-government as a new trend in the public sector. The public sector has increasingly added digital tools to its administration: hence, it is important that future civil servants already have competence in e-government within university education (McQuiston & Manoharan 2017). In the past 20 years, digitalization in public sector has contributed in at least following topics of interest:
1. Improving the efficiency of administrative functions;
2. Integration of administrative functions in departments, regions and states;
3. Modifying public services;
4. Improving the communication between public officials and citizens;
5. Improving the accessibility of public decision making (Li & Yuan 2015).
It is argued that public administration should be improved according to these changes. According to Stoffregen et al. (2016) there are contextual, social and technological boundaries for e-teaching. Evidence for these boundaries have been found from various studies. Contextual boundaries are founded on the lack of resources (space, time, personnel and educational content), political coordination, law and hierarchical management practices.
How can public administration education meet these changing demands of the working environment? How to develop exchange of information between working life and actors in higher education? The results based on empirical data will be analyzed during February-March 2020.